Media Conference Call: Release of Task Force Report on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy

Media Conference Call: Release of Task Force Report on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy

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Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Nuclear Weapons

CHARLES FERGUSON:  Good morning, everyone.  This is Charles Ferguson.  I'm the Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, based in Washington, D.C.  And it's my pleasure to release the Independent Task Force on U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy report.

And it's also my pleasure to have General Brent Scowcroft, one of the chairmen, join me on this call.  Unfortunately, the other chairman, Dr. William Perry, couldn't join us today.  He sends his regrets, and I'm sure he'll be available for other press events in the future.  And this is just the first event of many outreach events we're planning over the course of the next month for this report.

This report has been almost two years in the making.  If you recall, back in January of 2007, the four wise men -- some would call them -- of Bill Perry, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn put their names to an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling for a vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world.  Now, we've heard such calls for nuclear abolition in the past over many decades, but this op-ed was unusual, and a lot of people took notice because of the stature of those four men of foreign policy, and because of their long history of service to the United States, and because it was a bipartisan group, two Republicans and two Democrats.

A lot of people took notice.  A number of people here at the Council on Foreign Relations took notice of that op-ed.  And around June of 2007, I got the call from the executive office here at the council to begin writing a concept paper for this task force report.

And, make a long story short, we began the task force officially.  In January of 2008 we had our first meeting.  We have -- we had five sit-down meetings with a task force consisting of about 24 members, and we had a few observers as well.  And you can find them listed, I believe, in the announcement for this event and also on our website for the report.

And it's my duty to remind you of the website early and often.  It's  Or you can just go to our main website,, and on the right sidebar you'll see a link that you can click.  And there you can download an uncorrected proof copy of the report.  The corrected proofs should be done in a matter of the next week or two, and we'll have hard copies printed up by the end of May.

On May 28th, here in Washington, we will have the official release -- kind of a sit-down release where we'll invite members of the press, members of the Council on Foreign Relations, other people involved in foreign policy and arms control and proliferation work.  Unfortunately, I will be in Armenia at a NATO conference that day, but General Scowcroft and Dr. Perry will be at that event unveiling the report at the end of May, and there will be hard-copy publications available at that time.

So what I'm going to do here briefly is to talk about the major themes of the report, introduce General Scowcroft, have him talk briefly about the salient points in his view of the report.  And then we'll turn it over to Q&A because I'm sure you're anxious to ask questions, and I think we'll learn a lot more from your questions instead of having us go on at length.

So one of the main themes of this report is not to emphasize the need to move toward nuclear disarmament, you know, tomorrow or next four years or any definite time in the future.  Like I said, there's been a lot of focus on the issue of the nuclear disarmament.  Instead, our group focused on the important issue of nuclear weapons use.

What we've underscored from the very beginning, and the first sentence of the executive summary, is that the United States and the whole world have greatly benefited from an environment in which nuclear weapons have not been used for more than 60 years.  There's a so-called de facto taboo on nuclear weapons use, and what we want to do is we want to reinforce that non-use as much as possible.  It's to everyone's benefit in the world not to have any state or non-state actor -- i.e., terrorist group -- using a nuclear weapon.

So how do we do that?  So what we need to do is we need to have a responsible course of action.  And what we lay out in our report is a plan of action for the next four years for the new administration.

So we have to have proper balance here.  As President Obama said in his speech in Prague, he supports the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world, but while we're moving toward that possible end state, we need to make sure that our nuclear deterrent is safe, secure and reliable.  We need to have a strong deterrent.  So throughout the report, we try to keep the balance between further arms reductions with that, moving toward that possible eventual goal of nuclear disarmament, while making sure that the U.S. nuclear deterrent is safe, secure, reliable.

So what we say is that we first need to reassure our security assurances to our allies.  We need to reaffirm that our extended deterrence commitments still remain strong.  There are a number of countries -- NATO countries, Japan and South Korea in particular -- that rely on these assurances.

And we need to make sure that any actions we do with our nuclear arsenal are done in a very transparent way; that any decisions that the United States makes on its nuclear posture -- its nuclear force disposition, that is -- needs to be done in an open and transparent way.  We need to make sure our allies especially know why we're making those decisions.  We need to consult with allies about any changes in force posture that would affect them directly.  Here I'm referring to the issue of nuclear weapons in Europe, the so-called tactical nuclear weapons that are still based in certain NATO countries.

We believe very strongly that we need to reenergize arms control with Russia.  Here I mean formal, legal arms control -- a binding arms control agreement that have a verification component to it.  And as President Obama said, we need to try to get this agreement in place as quickly as possible.

There's a looming deadline facing us in December of this year.  The START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, will expire on December 9th.  And President Obama is trying to work with his Russian counterparts to try to reach at least a tentative agreement by that end date, and we fully support that.

What we don't do in our report is state exactly what that next round of reductions should do in terms of the number of arms to reduce.  We believe that should come out through the arms-control process.  That should be done through a discussion of both sides' strategic vision.  We need to have a dialogue with Russia to figure out, what is our vision for our respective countries in terms of what do we need in terms of nuclear deterrence?  And I think, through that dialogue, we can figure out how best to structure our respective nuclear forces.

We also believe that we need to bring China not into formal arms control, because we believe it's much too soon for that -- there's a great disparity between the Chinese and American nuclear forces -- but we believe strongly in talking with China about nuclear security, and to be very clear about our intent and actions in terms of missile defense with China.  And we also have a recommendation that we support a trilateral ban on testing of anti-satellite weapons.  The trilateral ban would involve China, the United States and Russia -- the three countries that demonstrate a capability -- anti-satellite capability.

We spend a lot of discussion and recommendations in the report on nonproliferation.  It is crucial to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, which has been under assault in recently years from North Korea and Iran especially.  And there's concern that we may be reaching a so-called nuclear tipping point; especially as Iran is developing a latent nuclear weapons capability, how will other countries in that region respond?

I just got back from a monthlong trip around the world looking at nuclear energy, and I stopped in Egypt and Jordan, and I heard their particular views and their concerns about what's going on in the region.  So I think the time to act is definitely now, and we need to lay the groundwork for next year's nonproliferation Review Conference in New York on May 2010.

And that was one of the main guiding lights for our report.  We wanted to present guidance to the Obama administration about how to prepare for a successful Review Conference at the 2010 conference.

Here we support ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and we want to try to take as many steps as possible toward ratification before the Review Conference in May of next year.  We also call for a moratorium on producing fissile material for weapons purposes, although we do say that's a lesser priority than other measures on nuclear security best practices and on moving toward ratification of the CTBT.

And we also believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency needs a more sustainable source of funds for its work on safeguards and security.  And one specific recommendation in that respect we have is to move the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear security budget into its regular budget to ensure that there's a sustainable source of funds for that important work.

And at this -- now I'd like to just turn it over to General Brent Scowcroft, who is one of the few people that you could say doesn't really require a long introduction because I think you all know of his very important work, his high service to the United States, his work as a public servant, and his advice to both Republican and Democratic administrations.  And it's been a pleasure working with General Scowcroft on this report.  He has been a leader in guiding the task force report to the stage where it ended up.

With that, let me turn it over to General Scowcroft and get his remarks.

SCOWCROFT:  Thank you very much, Charles.  That was a great summary of our report.  Let me just add a couple of points.

As Charles said, the basic impetus for this study was the "group of four" article on going to zero nuclear weapons.  And our task force had a variety of views on that, including those of the two -- of the two co-chairmen, so that we did not -- we did not try to skew the report.

We came to no conclusion on that.  Obviously, Bill Perry is one of the signatories of this report, and I'm a skeptic.  So we -- instead of focusing on that and the discussions relevant to that, we said, what are the interim steps that need to be taken?  And I think Charles has outlined those -- has outlined those very well.

Key negotiations with the Russians on reducing -- and to me, reducing is not just numbers.  It is, how do we make the nuclear arsenals that exist -- 95 percent of which are owned by the United States and the Russians -- more stable, less conducive to escalation in any possible crisis, most conducive to suppressing the urge for proliferation of that?  And the second thing is, how do we deal with the growing problem of nuclear proliferation?

So I think that's what the -- that's what the paper does.  And I hope it makes a useful contribution to what is an intensifying debate.

Thank you.

FERGUSON:  Thanks, General Scowcroft.

And, Steven, I think we're ready for questions from the press.

MODERATOR:  Okay.  At this time, we'll open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touch-tone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.  And if at any time, you'd like to remove yourself from the questioning cue, press star-two.  Once again, if you'd like to ask a question, press the star key followed by the one key.

Okay, and our first question comes from Mary Beth Sheridan from The Washington Post.  Please go ahead.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.  I was wondering if the report's authors could comment on what kind of scenario they see in the Senate as far as getting some of these arms-control treaties ratified.

SCOWCROFT:  Well, on CTBT, of course, it was -- it was not ratified when it came to the Senate before.  I think -- I'm not an expert on vote counting.  I think it'll be a tough -- I think it'll be a tough struggle, but I think we -- we've learned a lot since it was before the Senate before and circumstances have changed.  And I am cautiously optimistic that if the administration makes a good, clear case, then it has a chance.

But, Charles, you may differ.

FERGUSON:  I don't differ, General Scowcroft, but I just want to amplify a few things.

I think, in a broader sense, we need to involve the Senate not just on the CTBT, but in dealing with other arms-control issues because if we're successful in getting a follow-on arms-control treaty with Russia, the Senate, obviously, has to approve that.

One draft recommendation we talked about earlier on in a meeting -- and I don't believe it actually ended up in the report -- but now, in hindsight, I wish it would have -- but, you know, I can say this in my own personal view -- is that I think we need a Senate arms control observer group.  We need a group of, you know, wise leaders, men and women in the Senate who have some experience in these issues.  I'm thinking about Senator Lugar and Senator Kerry, you know, definitely leaders in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and I would say in the Senate Armed Services Committee as well, Senator Levin.  And people like that, I think, a core group needs to be brought in as soon as possible.  And the administration should consult with them, get their advice about how to guide the process toward a successful end not just on CTBT, but on arms-control agreements with Russia and any of the other important things we've talked about in this report.

And you know, I think the vote count's going to be very close, as the general said.  We're going to need at least, you know, eight or nine Republican votes to get the CTBT passed, and it's not a given.  And I would advise those of you who were following this issue back in 1999 when I was then working for the Federation of American Scientists, and we did not even get a simple majority vote on the CTBT.

But as the general said, that was a time.  That was different political circumstances, as I think you all understand.  And I think if we look at what statements came out from Senator Lugar at that time, I think he signaled that he is generally supportive of the idea of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but felt that the groundwork wasn't properly laid by the administration at that time.  And I think what the Obama administration needs to do is to really get their ducks in a row leading up to hearings.

And I think probably the soonest hearings could begin might be late this year.  And as we say in the report, it would be good if you can -- if you can prepare the groundwork for hearings later this year because that will send a good signal to the May 2010 Review Conference because I think the general and I agree that the CTBT mainly has political merit.  It's a symbol.  It's -- it puts you on the -- on the right side of the angels, so to speak, and it garners good will from allies especially.  And I think that's one of the main reasons why we should ratify it.

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you for your question.

Our next question comes from Yun Wu from People's Daily.  Please go ahead.

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  This is Wu speaking.  And my question is about China.

You have mentioned that it is not the time to bring China into formal arms-control negotiations.  My question is, when do you think it's the appropriate time for China and other nuclear weapons states -- France and the United Kingdom -- to be in the formal nuclear weapons reduction negotiations?

SCOWCROFT:  Well, I don't -- this is Scowcroft.  I don't think it is possible to state right now what the time is.  But I believe, with China, we have not had the kind of arms-control dialogue that we had with the Soviet Union even in the days of the Cold War.  We -- and the Americans and the Chinese have not had those strategic discussions which allow us to begin to understand each other and the philosophy that we follow in building our nuclear deterrent posture.

So I think that's where we need to start with the Chinese.  And that's why we urge a strategic dialogue -- defense dialogue -- with the Chinese so that we can begin to understand each other, at which time, then we can get to more detailed discussions.

The disparity of our -- of our weapons numbers is also still very great.  So it's a different kind of a situation than it is with the Russians, where we have a 30-year history of discussing these things.

FERGUSON:  Yeah, I would agree with General Scowcroft.

And I would just briefly add that in that dialogue, what we specifically need to bring up is, what are the U.S. intentions and capabilities on missile defense, because China is particularly concerned about that issue.  In our task force report, we say that missile defense probably is one of the main drivers pushing China to further modernize its nuclear arsenal.  And so it's not in the interest of the United States to have more Chinese nuclear warheads pointed at the continental United States, and it's not in the interest of China to have its nuclear deterrent force eroded by missile defense.

And so we have a discussion in the report, about a page or two, talking about how do we perceive China -- how does the United States perceive China?  Is China viewed as a so-called small Russia, that -- where we have a mutual deterrent relationship?  Or is China considered, in some sense, sort of a big, you know -- and pardon my usage here -- a big so-called rogue, where we're trying to -- trying to counter China's nuclear arsenal?

And what we say is that we conclude -- our task force -- that it's a fact of life -- a strategic fact that China and the United States are in a mutual deterrent relationship, even though there is a large disparity in our nuclear arsenals.  So we need to deal with that fact, and that should be one of the basis -- that should be a basis of our strategic dialogue.

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you for your question.

Once again, I'd like to remind everyone if you'd like to ask a question, press the star key followed by the one key.

Okay, and our next question comes from Greg Scholbetti (ph) from RealClearPolitics.  Please go ahead.


In the report, you have a small section on extended deterrence so the U.S. nuclear umbrella to allied states who don't have nuclear weapons.  What's the view, if nonproliferation activities fail with respect to Iran, of extending the U.S. nuclear umbrella to new states such as, you know, our Gulf allies?

SCOWCROFT:  I think -- I think that's a distinct possibility.  I think -- our concentration right now with Iran, I think, ought to be on persuading them that going nuclear is -- is not a good course of action, even for their own security.  If that fails, then I think we need to look at alternatives in order to deal both with the fact that Iran itself may have nuclear weapons and the impetus that may give for proliferation elsewhere, and how we can deal with the fact that Iran has nuclear weapons, and how can we dampen down the impetus for others to acquire those weapons in self-defense, if you will.

And certainly extending the deterrent umbrella is one of the things which would have to be considered.  But I think the first -- the first step is to focus on Iran and persuading them this is not the course of action that is in their own interest, not alone the world interest.

FERGUSON:  Yeah, I think General Scowcroft raises a very important point here, and I just want to just add that extended deterrence is not just about nuclear deterrence, it's a whole package of issues and reassurances.  And we briefly talk about this in the report.

It's political and conventional military, and that also goes into shoring up security for our allies and those in the Gulf who have concerns about Iran.  And it's -- it's a fact -- it's been reported in the press recently that there has been an upsurge in conventional arms purchases from the UAE and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states partly in response to, probably, what's going on with Iran.

So there's a dynamic relationship going on here between those states and Iran.  And I think General Scowcroft said it exactly right.  First, we need to try to do as much as we can to prevent Iran from actualizing its nuclear capability.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you for your question.

Our next question comes from Yun Wu from People's Daily.  Please go ahead.

QUESTIONER:  Yes, sorry, another question because, in addition to the nuclear disparities between China and the United States, there is a conventional weapons disparity between the two countries.  Probably, on the Chinese side, they are concerned about the amount of American conventional weapons.  I'm wondering, as the nuclear-weapon negotiations goes forward, are there -- in your report, do you -- are there any places that you have addressed the conventional weapons disparities?

SCOWCROFT:  We did not deal with conventional-weapon disparities.  But the issue of the United States, especially our very accurate conventional strike capability, has been an issue.  It's of concern both to the Russians and to the Chinese.  And that, of course, is something which could be discussed.  But we focused principally on nuclear weapons themselves.

FERGUSON:  And I have nothing further to add.  I agree with the general's remarks.

MODERATOR:  Okay, thank you for your question.

And at this time, we have no further questions.


FERGUSON:  All right.

So, once again, it's an opportunity for me to mention that the uncorrected proofs copy of the report is up on our website,  And on the right sidebar, you can click on the link, or you could also go to the webpage

And I remind you that I'm available for any kind of -- any press calls, any news media calls.  You can reach me either through the website contact information or through the communications office.  And making myself available for the next few weeks as we roll out this report throughout the month of May.

SCOWCROFT:  Okay, thank you all very much.

FERGUSON:  Thank you.  Yeah, thank you very much.







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