Paul C. Warnke Lecture on International Security: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty—Reducing the Threat of Nuclear Weapons

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Former Senior Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, U.S. Department of State (20092013); CFR Member

Former Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration (2018–2020); Former Undersecretary for Nuclear Security, U.S. Department of Energy (2018–2020); CFR Member

Vice President, Materials Risk Management, Nuclear Threat Initiative; Former U.S. Representative to the Vienna Office of the United Nations and International Atomic Energy Agency (20162017); CFR Member


National Security Correspondent, Wall Street Journal

Paul C. Warnke Lecture on International Security

The United Nations is expected to hold the tenth Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in 2021, following its spring 2020 postponement. In this event, panelists discuss the status of the treaty, which has facilitated nonproliferation cooperation for more than fifty years, including the major accomplishments of its signatories and the challenges they face.

The Paul C. Warnke Lecture on International Security was established in 2002 and is endowed by a number of Council members and the family and friends of Paul C. Warnke. The lecture commemorates his legacy of courageous service to the nation and international peace.

GORDON: My name is Michael Gordon. I'm a correspondent with the Wall Street Journal. I'm presiding over today's discussion, which is the Paul C. Warnke Lecture on International Security on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and also, more broadly, the question of reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. The Paul C. Warnke Lecture was established in 2002, and it's dedicated to the memory of Mr. Warnke, who was a member and former director of CFR, and the lecture commemorates his service to the nation and his dedication to the cause of international peace. I actually interacted with him as a young reporter, and some of our speakers knew him as well. So I would like to thank the members of the Warnke family who are on the call today and the donors to the lectureship who made this possible. 

We have more than three hundred people signed up for this event, and there's going to be an opportunity in the last half for a Q&A. There's a procedure for raising your hands and asking questions. As you know from the materials in front of you, the people who are going to be speaking today—it's a strong panel. Robert Einhorn, who's a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, was a senior official at the State Department on nonproliferation issues—a very experienced person in these areas with a lot of, I think, nuanced and original views. Lisa Gordon-Haggerty, a former administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Laura Holgate, who is at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and was a representative to the IAEA. And Fred Kaplan, who's an author and journalist, his latest book is called The Bomb. Fred and I were colleagues in Moscow just a little while ago. So with that, all of this is on the record. I'm going to start it off by asking a question, really, to each of the panelists, and then I'm going to ask a separate question to each and follow up. And then, after about twenty minutes or so of this, we're going to open it up to the members who are participating in this event. So for Bob Einhorn, I thought maybe you could start us off by giving us an overview of, you know, set the stage of what's happened since the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) entered into force? How successful or unsuccessful has it been in your view? You know, what's gone right, what's not gone so well? And just give us an overview, and then I want to ask you for a follow-up, please.

EINHORN: Michael, thank you very much. And, for me, it's a special honor to participate in the Council's Paul C. Warnke Lecture. I worked closely with Ambassador Warnke when I was a member of the U.S. arms control delegation that he was leading in the late 1970s. Paul was a very powerful advocate of arms control measures that strengthened U.S. national security, and he was the most effective negotiator I've ever seen. So I'm very pleased that the Council has this annual event. Let me turn to your question, Michael. In my view, the NPT and the broader nonproliferation regime that the NPT is the foundation of has been remarkably successful. There is now 190 states party to the NPT, only five that aren't—India, Pakistan, Israel, South Sudan, and North Korea, which was a party and withdrew. Many states with the technical capability to acquire nuclear weapons chose not to do so, including many U.S. allies, who, of course, had security guarantees from the United States. Several states pursued nuclear weapons but voluntarily abandoned their programs. That includes Egypt, Argentina, Brazil. South Africa actually built a small nuclear arsenal but decided to eliminate them with the transition to black majority rule. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited nuclear weapons on their territory with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but they decided to give them up and join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states. Iraq, Libya, and Syria sought nuclear weapons but were pressured to hold their programs, in some cases by the use of military force, and Iran's nuclear ambitions have been blocked by the Iran nuclear deal, at least for the time being. 

So despite all kinds of dire warnings about a world with many nuclear-armed states, we haven't had a single addition to the nuclear club in the last thirty years. And this has created the conditions in which the peaceful uses of nuclear energy could be safely pursued. The NPT has also encouraged progress toward nuclear disarmament, which is another of the NPT goals embodied in Article VI of the NPT. Cold War nuclear arsenals have been dramatically reduced, especially by Russia and the United States in the course of a succession of strategic arms agreements. But recently, with the return of great-power competition, that progress has been stalled. And further nuclear reductions are unlikely for quite some time. Many non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT have charged the nuclear powers that are party to the treaty with a failure to comply with their obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament. And they have looked to other solutions to promote nuclear disarmament, such as a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. There's been a polarization among NPT parties that threatens to weaken the NPT as a barrier to nuclear proliferation. So overall, in my estimation, the nonproliferation regime, the NPT, in particular, has been remarkably successful. But there are challenges for the future.

GORDON: Well, let's take up some of those challenges. Maybe I'll switch to Laura Holgate and just ask you, what do you see as some of the particular challenges for the regime and coming years? Which countries, specifically, should we be concerned about? And also, as Bob mentioned, Article VI of the NPT says that there is an obligation on the parties to pursue negotiations in good faith; where does China fit in on that? Should they be pursuing nuclear negotiations, not merely as an end in itself, but also as part of the program to strengthen the NPT? And if not, how do we deal with China?

HOLGATE: Thanks, Michael. Bob obviously laid down a really important reminder that the Nonproliferation Treaty has been quite successful at the things it set out to do. But there's a lot of changes in the current and future environment that the treaty is not well suited to. And we need to think about the treaty in the context of a broader set of the nonproliferation regime, which has a number of formal and informal components to it. One of the things that we're seeing is the rise of non-state actors, both malicious, obviously in the form of violent extremists, but also potentially beneficial, or at least neutral when you're looking at global companies, whether it's trading companies, whether it's nuclear energy companies who do not play the normal role of states but whose decisions have an impact on the success or failure of some of these elements. And I would even include non-government organizations, like the Nuclear Threat Initiative, among the beneficial non-state actors, but where we've been able to stimulate action that has a real-life outcome. And so the system isn't really well structured to accommodate that range of non-state actors.

I think we've also seen that U.S. and Russia used to share a common perspective. They were both lead negotiators for the Nonproliferation Treaty. Right now, we have very different views between U.S. and Russia of what's the value of the treaty, what role do we individually or collectively have regarding the various aspects of the treaty, and how we interact around things like the safeguards component of the International Atomic Energy Agency's verification responsibilities as well as nuclear security, security of nuclear materials, and weapons. And U.S. and Russia have very different perspectives there. So that lack of consensus among the two main nuclear actors, I think, makes it really challenging. The other point about the U.S. and Russia piece, though, also is that it's no longer that the biggest nuclear threat has to do with U.S.-Russia intentional massive mutually assured destruction. It has more to do with accident miscalculation and so on, and there the NPT offers us almost nothing in terms of protection. 

Regarding China, clearly, China accepted the same responsibilities in Article VI as the U.S., Russia, France, and the UK to pursue good-faith nuclear disarmament. China has been successfully hiding behind the significantly larger arsenals of U.S. and Russia. My personal view is that there's one more round of U.S.-Russia reductions that would be important, but then the energy should shift to the UN Security Council's five permanent members (P5) as the venue. I don't think it makes sense for China to be negotiating with the U.S. and Russia on its own. I think it's a conversation that needs to be about all of the P5, because they all have the same Article VI commitment. There's work that can be done now and was started, you know, ten years ago that Bob was involved in, of trying to bring some of that disarmament discussion and culture into the P5 context. And that can be reinvigorated, expanded by creating a path to engage China along with the other countries in a future disarmament discussion.

GORDON: So, for Lisa Gordon-Haggerty, a question with the renewed concern over climate change and the new administration is certainly going to emphasize that. Some people see a growing role for nuclear power in the future. What are the technological challenges if that were to come to pass that the further embrace of nuclear power might pose for the NPT for counter-proliferation efforts, and what are the technological solutions, if there are any? Can you address this from this, sort of, technology side?

GORDON-HAGERTY: Well, thank you, Michael, for the question. And I also want to thank the Council, the Warnke family, and my counterparts on the panel today, as well as those that are listening. This is a really important topic. It doesn't deserve just an hour, it deserves much more continued interaction, so I look forward to being hopefully part of that continued conversation through the Council. I, too, want to acknowledge the success of the NPT over the last fifty years. I think it's had positive contributions towards global security, as Bob and Lauren both laid out. And even in a virtual seminar like today and how we're all working, basically, virtually throughout the world, the NPT continues to be successful in different areas in advancing the three pillars of the NPT. With regard to your question on proliferation and on the capacity of the peaceful uses and how, of course, we're all working towards a carbon-free climate, and where we're looking at emerging technologies, whether it's small modular reactors or other technologies, I think we have the benefit of being able to look back on the last fifty years of the NPT—making progress, learning about this feat, finding the lessons learned, the shortfalls, as well as the successes that we've all encountered in the NPT—learning from that through the robustness of the United States government through the technical expertise presented at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and other agencies. But again, prevention is where, you know, that to me is a strong suit. So from a carbon-free future, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plays a critical role in that and peaceful uses. There are mature nuclear energy technologies out there and capabilities in countries that administer them, and it's in all of our best interest to make sure that we are all working towards the progress of peaceful uses. 

My concern is that, while we have emerging technologies that have certainly been for the benefit of increased health, and safety, and security, and safeguards, there are some emerging technologies, which I'm very concerned about, including AI and additive manufacturing. We need to get ahead of these capabilities rather than seeing them being exploited in malicious ways. There are technologies and capabilities resident in the United States government and other places that can address these issues before they are used for malicious intent. There's no doubt, like I said, that the technologies of today have served great use for improving the health and safety of the globe. However, we do have some other emerging things, unlike anything we have seen in the traditional nuclear energy sphere. So we need to get ahead of that, and I think through the robustness of the interagency of the U.S. government and other partners—the UK, France, and others—and perhaps even using the P5 generally, I think there are ways of getting ahead of this now because it's only going to get worse. We've seen what AI has done. We've seen what additive manufacturing can do. And it's unlike anything we've ever seen before. So those are a couple of things I'd like to ensure without getting too long into the technical aspects. I think there are a lot of people on this call that will appreciate the importance of emerging technologies.

GORDON: Thank you. So Fred, when you wrote your latest book, The Bomb, you did some research into the origins and kind of prehistory of the NPT. Maybe you could share a little bit of that with this group, and also, you know, what the implications or lessons are for the future of the NPT.

KAPLAN: Well, thank you, Michael. And thanks to the Council. Good to see you all again. Yes, there's a whole history to this that really I wasn't familiar with until doing the archival research. So the impulse toward negotiating an NPT started in 1964 when China tested a nuclear bomb. The secretary of defense at the time, Robert McNamara, didn't see this as an imminent threat but realized that there were about six other countries that also had the capability to do this and thought that might destabilize the world, so he wondered if there might be an international treaty to just ban the development of nuclear weapons. Remember, keep in mind that this was before there were any meaningful U.S.-Soviet arms control treaties. This was, you know, Khrushchev had just been deposed, and Brezhnev had set up stuff. This was Cold War times, yet he had this ambition. So he and McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser, set up, very secretly, a panel of ten people headed by Roswell Gilpatric, who had recently been deputy secretary of defense, staff director Spurgeon Keeny, major arms control advocate. I'm sure many people watching remember him. And they had five very classified meetings in the Executive Office Building to discuss this at the end of 1964- the beginning of 1965. And, you know, there were some people on the panel arguing, well, maybe nonproliferation is a bad idea. For example, that might be a good idea to help India get the bomb to deter China. I mean, these were discussions that nobody had ever had before. It was starting from ground zero. They came up with the idea that no, actually, on balance, it's better that the countries that don't have nuclear weapons still don't for reasons that are now kind of commonly discussed, but it was quite unusual. And then came a very interesting proposal. It was thought, okay, if the rest of the world is going to forego nukes, the countries that have them really ought to reduce them. And an idea was floated that there should be a ban on developing any new ICBMs for twelve to eighteen months and that the existing nuclear powers should reduce their arsenals of warheads and bombs by 30 percent. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn't like this idea at all. But even Spurgeon Keeny, who was a very ardent disarmament advocate, thought this might not be a good idea. A moratorium of twelve to eighteen months - we might get locked in, and this might hurt our bargaining position in any subsequent arms-control talks with the Soviet Union. Now, this could have been a crucial turning point, and remember this is 1965, five years before we developed MIRVs (multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles). If this had happened then, the subsequent course of the arms race might have been much less frightening. But then what happened, a kind of an encouraging thing, we presented this idea to the Soviet Union. And the NPT, as it was presented to the United Nations, ultimately, was pretty much a joint U.S.-Soviet draft. There were two separate drafts, but they were pretty much identical. And again, this was at what might be not quite the height of the Cold War, but very close to it. And yet, you know, the Soviet Union has actually had even more of an impulse toward nonproliferation than we do. They've never provided nuclear materials to their so-called allies because they feared their allies almost as much as they feared their enemies. So there was a converging and even a common interest that the two of us had. And, I think, you know, this holds some lessons for what we might do now. Things are quite hostile between the U.S. and Russia, U.S. and China. And yet, even something quite as dramatic as a Nonproliferation Treaty was able to be negotiated at that time, and, you know, one might wonder what less ambitious, but still quite important accords might be developed now.

GORDON: So, Bob, let me come back to you. Looking to the future, there's a review conference coming up at some point. What specific things do you think can be done to strengthen the NPT and the nonproliferation regime generally? What are the things that you think might weaken it, and where does the review conference fit into this?

EINHORN: Well, Michael, Iran is obviously a big challenge. If there is a tenth nuclear-armed state, many people fear it's going to be Iran. With the erosion of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran is building up its nuclear capacities again. So the Biden administration is going to have to address that problem and pursue a follow-on negotiation to try to extend some of the expiration dates in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). You know, the Saudi crown prince has said that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, his country will match them. And others in the region could eventually follow suit. Turkey is a question here. So I think, you know, dealing with the Iran problem and preventing Saudi Arabia from acquiring the technologies to pursue nuclear weapons, especially enrichment, should be a high priority. And then in Northeast Asia, you have growing North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, you have China's regional assertiveness. And they may be prompting South Korea and Japan to reconsider their decision to forego nuclear weapons in the past. And I think in this connection, the credibility of U.S. security assurances is very important. And I think President Trump's transactional approach to alliance commitments has raised concerns on the part of America's allies about the U.S. security assurances. So a key element of nonproliferation, actually, is to reinforce U.S. commitments, especially the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent. You know, I think strengthening the IAEA safeguards system—this is something that Lisa and Laura know a lot about—and making the Additional Protocol of the IAEA a universal standard for NPT verification will be critical. Working together with Russia and China—Laura mentioned this, we used to be partners with China in dealing with North Korea, partners with Russia in dealing with Iran. That's more difficult now; that has to be restored. The illicit procurement networks have become much more sophisticated. We need to strengthen national and international interdiction capabilities to prevent these technologies from going to countries that want to have a nuclear capability. And, of course, we have to try to rejuvenate arms control. You know, there have been setbacks. Recently, the termination of the INF Treaty. Hopefully, New START will be extended for five years once the Biden administration takes over. But there are big challenges ahead, and it's going to take considered action to address them.

GORDON: We have just a few minutes before we turn to questions from all the people viewing this now. Another member of the panel wants to weigh in? Anybody else have any other recommendations or suggestions for specific steps to strengthen the NPT over, let's say, the next decade?

KAPLAN: Well, one thing, you know, if you look at the literature back in the early 1960s, there were forecasts that by the year 2000, there would be twenty to twenty-five nuclear states. There were certainly nearly that many for the technical capability to get there. The NPT was one reason why this was cut off. Another was that the network of alliances that both the United States and the Soviet Union had at the time, kind of, on the case of the Soviet Union, it was clamping down on any effort or even thoughts that the Warsaw Pact allies would have on getting their own nuclear weapons. In our case, it was providing assurances, you know, the nuclear umbrella. As this becomes eroded, as it became eroded under Trump, it's going to take some time to restore these assurances. That was when, you know, you started having countries like Japan and South Korea, thinking, well, I don't know if I can rely on the United States, maybe I have to go my own way. So networks of either clamping down or assuring security, which have nothing to do with the technological aspects of the treaty, but just the underlying geostrategic elements, are important to emphasize.


HOLGATE: I think it's also important to improve the health of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It's been on a zero real-growth budget for well over a decade as the expectations of the international community on them have only increased. And, as Lisa pointed out, to the degree that we have a growth of nuclear energy in countries that haven't had it before, of new types of reactors that have the potential to be more secure and more safeguarded by design but only if we make them that way. They won't automatically be like that. The agency is going to be asked to do more and more. And so, recreating the international consensus that allows it to have the people, the technology that is needed to sit underneath its legitimacy, will be critical to the NPT's future success.

EINHORN: Michael, can I just add a couple of quick points? One thing that really needs to be done is to do something about the NPT's withdrawal provision. If a country legally withdraws from the NPT, its IAEA safeguards will automatically lapse, and it will be legally entitled to use the equipment, the technology, the facilities acquired while an NPT party to pursue nuclear weapons. This needs to be fixed. There have been proposals over the years to fix it—it hasn't been done. Another thing that needs to be done is that today nuclear-exporting countries have a strong incentive to make reactors sales. And there's a real risk that in the competition to make those sales, including to places like the Middle East, they will relax the conditions that they require their potential customers to accept, including with respect to adherence to the Additional Protocol, including with respect to the pursuit of enrichment or reprocessing capabilities. Groups of nuclear-exporting countries should get together, not just in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which is multilateral, but a small group of them, and to agree to strengthen the conditions of nuclear export, especially to the Middle East.


GORDON: At this point, just to make sure our members get a chance to ask their own questions, we're going to open it up to all members to join the conversation. And a reminder, this is all on the record. 

STAFF: We'll take the first question from Annelise Riles.

Q: Hello, thank you very much for this wonderful discussion. I'm Annelise Riles, director of the Buffett Institute at Northwestern University. On January 21, a new nuclear ban treaty will come into force, as you know. It takes a different approach, and it's been brought into being by a different cast of characters. What are the implications, as you see it, of this Treaty for the Nonproliferation regime, and what should be the approach to it of the Biden administration? Thank you

GORDON: Who wants to take that?

EINHORN: Annelise, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW that you referred to is going to enter into force, you know, very, very shortly. The proponents believe that it's going to encourage further steps toward nuclear disarmament. I doubt that it's going to have that practical implication. It will enter into force for over fifty states, but none of those states have nuclear weapons. None of those states have security guarantees from the United States that depend on nuclear weapons. So, you know, my own view and the view of the nuclear-weapon states who oppose the treaty, is that the best way to pursue nuclear disarmament is through a step-by-step approach based on what's permitted by international security conditions. And unfortunately today, those conditions are not very good. But sooner or later, they'll improve, and we can get back on the track to further nuclear disarmament. But I don't think this effort is going to have much effect on nuclear disarmament.

HOLGATE: I think the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is really kind of a move from the rest of the non-weapon states in protest to the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament. And so, I think it's important that it be taken seriously but not necessarily literally, as, you know, kick in the pants to get the U.S. and Russia back to the negotiating table and unlock the lack of progress on Article VI. Reforms that Bob very rightfully pointed out to the NPT are not going to be possible if the countries that have weapons are not seen as carrying out their work under Article VI. So I don't think it'll change the legal or behavioral landscape very much for those who are members of it, but I do think that the weapon states ought to take the disgruntlement that it reflects quite seriously and return to, first bilateral, and then, you know, at least five-part arms control negotiations.

GORDON: Let's move on to the next question. I think there will probably be a bunch out there.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Christopher Ford.

Q: Hi, hopefully, you can hear me. Excellent, very good. My name is Chris Ford, and I actually have no affiliation whatsoever at this point, I've lots of time on my hands. Thank you, guys, all of you for this great discussion. I just have a quick, very quick comment and then a quick question, if I might. The comment is actually to add a bit of gloss to what Fred said about the origins of the NPT. And I guess I would point out that there are some origins that go back even further, at least as far as 1961—the UN General Assembly with something called the Irish resolution, which established what in effect became the two core principles of the current treaty, and they still are after all these years later. First of all, the idea that those who have weapons shouldn't spread them. And secondly, the idea that those who do not have weapons shouldn't try to get them. And we see both of those today in their modern incarnation in Articles I and II of the NPT. So, there's a fantastically long genealogy, even earlier, from the point that we were discussing earlier. My question has to do with the rescheduled NPT review conference, which is, I guess, now on for August, and what it might be possible for the parties to agree to at that event? The last time there was an agreed final document at a review conference in 2010, when Joe Biden was vice president and everyone, including the U.S. delegation there, agreed, among many other things, to implement something called the 13 Practical Steps that had been agreed as early as 2000 in the review conference. This means that the U.S. delegation and all the other parties at the NPT in 2010 agreed to implement START II, to negotiate START III, to implement the Trilateral Initiative, and to strengthen the ABM Treaty—none of which actually existed at the time they all agreed to do these things. I guess my question for the panelists is, do you all think that the parties might be able to agree upon something in August of 2021 that actually reflects the twenty-first century rather than the agenda of the 1990s? And if so, what would that agreement look like? Thanks very much.

KAPLAN: Well, I would say, the idea of START III when people first started talking, I think even people in the Obama administration were conceding that this just wasn't going to happen that Russia was going to reduce its theater nuclear weapons in any significant way, any more than in the 1960s the United States would have reduced its some seven thousand theater nuclear weapons in Europe, which it saw as a hedge against what was seen as Russian conventional superiority in Europe. So I think that's probably not going to happen. I think maybe one thing to focus on, while it's very difficult to focus on anything else, are things related to just broad confidence-building measures and just restoring arms-control talks in general. I would say that for the first decade of nuclear arms control negotiations, far more important than anything that was actually accomplished in the treaties, except maybe the ABM Treaty, which was quite significant, that the more important thing was just having Russian and American officials and diplomats sitting around the table talking about something. Arms control was kind of a—something they could talk about when it was politically impossible to talk about anything else. So I think, you know, it might be a valuable thing just to have diplomats sit down and figure out a next steps agenda, which in itself could have, you know, more tangible effects immediately—kind of confidence-building implications right away and more tangible ones down the road.

GORDON-HAGERTY: And if I may add to that, Fred, those are great points, you know, not to stray away from the NPT, but in the New START negotiations that have been ongoing, I will tell you one of the biggest opportunities that we put on the table was confidence-building measures with the Russians. And we have not seen that moving as quickly as we could. I think there are some opportunities because we did have quite a robust New START opportunity ahead of us that was at least proposed by the United States, as far as I'm concerned, and we were part and parcel of that from a technical standpoint in my previous capacity. But I would say that there are some obvious opportunities there at the RevCon where we can apply those, whether it's bilateral or multilateral. So I think there are some things, but, you know, just again, just to make clear, even with the New START negotiations, with our discussions with the Russians, the conversations, in my opinion, were more one-sided than they were coming back to the table. In fact, it was even as far as who the Russians brought for their negotiators. So I would like to see that too, and I think there are some opportunities there as we embark on the twenty-first century in the next fifty years or how many years we will have an NPT. Chris, great to hear your voice.

GORDON: Okay, I guess I moved on to the next question since everyone is so shy.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Joe Nye.

Q: Hi, great panel, great people, and I agree with everything said, but I'd like to hear a little bit more about North Korea and how that's going to affect South Korea and Japan. I've been involved in a number of Track II meetings with both of those countries in the last few months. And they're very worried about legitimizing North Korea's status as a nuclear weapons state. Richard Armitage and I just issued another report on the U.S.-Japan alliance, and we tried to duck that by saying our long-term goal remains the ultimate denuclearization of the peninsula. But in the meantime, Biden's going to have to do a number of things in terms of trying to bargain with or limit or contain North Korea. How do you square that circle? What would you recommend? Bob, why don't I put this to you? You and I used to work on this together. How should Biden handle or approach the North Korean problem?

EINHORN: Yes, Joe, the goal must continue to be the eventual complete denuclearization of North Korea. We cannot accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. If we did, I think both Japan and South Korea would be terribly concerned, and they may reconsider their own option to acquire nuclear weapons. So the goal has to be complete denuclearization, but it should be clear by now that this is not going to happen in a single step and at an early date or even in the foreseeable future. This is a long-term goal. And I think the Biden administration must adopt, you know, denuclearization as a long-term goal that has to be pursued on a step-by-step basis with reciprocal benefits to the parties at each step of the way, which includes removing or suspending some of the sanctions and economic pressure against North Korea. So it should focus now on an interim agreement, a first step on the road toward complete denuclearization. And in my view, such an interim step could include the formalization of the current moratoria on nuclear weapons testing by the North and the flight testing of long-range missiles. In addition, there should be a prohibition on the production of fissile material—separated plutonium or enriched uranium—anywhere in North Korea. This will be hard because verification of a nationwide ban on fissile material production will require intrusive measures, and the North Koreans will resist intrusive verification. But I think it's a goal that would be very important; it would cap the material that North Korea could use in building nuclear weapons. And I think that would alleviate concerns by Japan and South Korea about the buildup of the North Korean nuclear threat. So it's, you know, it's a half measure, but it's the most practical measure at the present time, and it's best for nonproliferation in Northeast Asia.

KAPLAN: Well, I would just say there was a time, and Bob Einhorn was very much involved in this, before North Korea had nuclear weapons, that there was an opportunity to contain them. And in fact, the Agreed Framework, which is much derided, was actually a very successful agreement as far as it went. It didn't go all the way, but it really did affect things, and we were supposed to reciprocate with the providing of light water reactors, which we never did. And there was supposed to be diplomatic relations, which there never was. Now, however, North Korea has a pocketful of nukes and a leader who is perhaps a little more wild-eyed or unpredictable than his father and grandfather, and it's going to be hard to do any of these steps. I mean, step number one to anything should be North Korea making a statement of what they have. I mean, you can't have any statement like, okay, I'm reducing 20 percent of my nuclear weapons while you get rid of 20 percent of your sanctions, without knowing what the baseline is, and North Korea, in the negotiations with the Trump administration, just resolutely refused to provide any data whatsoever. I don't know how you get around that as long as politics remain the same there. While it is unwise to officially acknowledge that North Korea is a nuclear weapon state, I think we do have to accept as a practical matter that it kind of is. And that containment and continued pressure can go a long way to prevent them from doing anything haywire. I mean, Kim Jong-un, you know, I remember H.R. McMaster once saying something like because he kills his own people, he's not susceptible to classical deterrence theory. Well, it seems to me that since he killed these people in order to perpetuate his own rule, he's actually quite susceptible to classical deterrence theory. He doesn't want to endanger himself or his regime. And I think, yes, push for all these possible openings for negotiation, but in the meantime, it has to be a continued containment and pressure and stiffening of the alliances and any openings of cooperation with the countries around North Korea.

GORDON: Let's take the next question.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Cynthia Roberts.

Q: Thank you all for doing this tremendous call. My question actually follows from the one on Korea. It's related to the problem of and the challenge of U.S. extended deterrence. We know that the Biden administration wants to deepen and correct and improve our relations with our allies, but it's unclear how much they're going to support the recapitalization of the nuclear deterrent, which was just passed in a bill through Congress, but more is needed there. And then, there is the additional question of how flexible the NPT can be interpreted going forward on this question of extended deterrence. For example, we still get challenges from the Russians on nuclear sharing in NATO. What if it's needed in Asia to do something of the same sort? Or similarly, what if the Europeans actually, surprisingly, deepen their strategic relationships and their defense relations and decide to pursue a European nuclear option? Is the NPT flexible enough to allow for this, and are the Americans prepared? Is the Biden administration prepared to go forward with enhanced nuclear sharing to reassure our Asian allies, not just our European allies? Thank you very much.

GORDON: Bob, why don't you go first and then Fred.

EINHORN: Yes, I think effective diplomacy with North Korea would not be possible without a strong alliance system. I think the first step of the Biden administration will be to shore up the credibility of U.S. assurances and to strengthen alliance deterrence and defense capabilities. That's the foundation to pursue diplomacy with North Korea. In terms of extended deterrence, I think Cynthia is right. I think we have to take steps to reinforce the extended deterrent. I think that can be done, short of, for example, having U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in South Korea as U.S. weapons continue to be stationed in certain NATO countries. I think the NPT is flexible enough to permit the stationing of U.S. nuclear weapons abroad, provided they're kept under U.S. control. I don't think that will be necessary for Northeast Asia. In terms of adopting some of the burden-sharing in South Korea as it's pursued in Europe, I think the U.S. can do more to give South Korean allies more of a say about how the U.S. extended deterrent is planned and operationalized in Northeast Asia. But I don't think the type of nuclear sharing arrangements adopted in NATO, for example, training allied pilots to deliver U.S. nuclear weapons, I don't think that's necessary for Northeast Asia. And I think it'd be political inhibitions in Northeast Asia to establishing those kinds of nuclear-sharing arrangements.

KAPLAN: Yes, I would just say a few things very quickly. One, I don't think that extended deterrence requires the modernization of all three legs of the nuclear triad. And I think we will see under the Biden administration a serious reassessment of whether we need to go ahead with four hundred new ICBMs, new air-launch cruise missiles, in particular, and maybe even a new strategic bomber. Their surface life extension programs have taken us a long way and could take us further. In terms of the European Union nuclear force, I find this pretty implausible. You know, right now, of course, Britain and France have their own nuclear forces, which were explicitly omitted from the count of the INF Treaty, which means who would be really, in effect, the nuclear power in an EU nuclear arsenal, it would be Germany. And I think, you know, even though Germany has proved itself no longer to be so infected by the 1940s as it used to be, I think there'd be a lot of resistance to that, including inside Germany. 

One interesting thing about Biden and extended deterrence, he is on record as supporting a no-first-use declaration. If you had no-first-use, that's kind of the end of extended deterrence. However, he has also said we would adopt that as the policy only in consultation with our allies, which is kind of a concession that it's really not going to happen. In the Obama administration where Biden was, of course, vice president, Obama said in private meetings several times that he really didn't think that any American president would use nuclear weapons first. However, he accepted the arguments that if we declared that as policy, the allies would go nuts. And he also accepted an argument put forth by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that some countries have biological weapons that can do tremendous damage, and we gave up biological weapons, so nukes can be a deterrent to that, and why tell anybody that we're abandoning that as a possible deterrent.

GORDON: Actually, Fred, during the campaign, Biden didn't endorse no-first-use. What he endorsed was the sole purpose, which was the proposition that nuclear weapons can only be used to deter other nuclear attacks or preempt a nuclear attack but would not be used in response to conventional tech or cyber things like that. It's a little different than no-first-use, and this would only be done in consultation with allies and with the military. Let's go. We're down to sort of our last five minutes. Let's just try to squeeze in a few more questions.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from James Gilmore.

Q: Thank you very much. I'm Jim Gilmore, the ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). I'm in Vienna right now. I've been sitting here trying to formulate this in a responsible way, but I guess my question to the panel is disarmament is not really a goal, is it? Because in a world that's still using force, nuclear weapons are the assurance of the survival of a regime, and I think that's driving a lot of the nuclear policies. So really, what we're talking about is the reduction of certain types of weapons, aren't we? Or the types of weapons that might be used as battlefield weapons? And secondly, if we see countries beginning to acquire nuclear weapons, what's the right policy for preventing that? We waited too long with North Korea. And now we're stuck with them because they've got nuclear weapons, and now they have the assurance of regime certainty. What do you do when a country is basically moving towards that, now that we've learned, what do you do? Do you move in militarily and just take it out, which we're capable of doing, before the crucial event? So thank you very much. I'm really grateful for this opportunity to listen to you, this distinguished panel.

EINHORN: What do you do when you see a country moving to nuclear weapons? We saw Iran moving in that direction. And so, the United States, under President Bush and President Obama, put intense pressure on Iran. Not enough pressure to get them to give up their enrichment program altogether, but a willingness on Iran's part to accept strict limits on their program and the JCPOA effectively blocking their path to nuclear weapons. I think you're right; we're a bit late on North Korea. They'd already separated enough plutonium for one and a half nuclear weapons by the time the Agreed Framework was put in place. But I think it's a question of building broad international support for preventing these developments, putting intense pressure on these countries to stop their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Use of military force—the United States has, you know, considered the use of force against North Korea's program. You know, Israel was asking the United States to join them in using military force to stop Iran's program. I think in both cases, those administrations wisely decided that military force would not be effective and for a durable period that is more likely to, you know, rile up these countries and to make them even more determined to acquire nuclear weapons in a more covert way in the future.

GORDON: Next question, I just want to—we only have a few minutes. 

STAFF: Okay, we'll take our next question from Henry Sokolski.

Q: Thank you very much. I'm with the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. And first, I'd just like to note that the NPT Irish resolution actually, if you talk to the Irish, they think it happened in 1958, not 1961 or 1964. So we've run that ground. A question I have is given the emphasis that Egypt and other NPT members have placed on conducting serious Middle Eastern nuclear-weapon-free zone talks, why is it in America's interest to continue to deny Israel has nuclear weapons? Would you advise the Biden administration to agree, as Trump did, not to admit that Israel has nuclear weapons or in any way diplomatically to raise the matter of Israel's nuclear weapons program in public?

EINHORN: Look, the United States has appreciated for decades Iran's capabilities, but it's cooperated in Israel's policy of not admitting that it has nuclear weapons. I think there's some value in not explicitly recognizing Israel's nuclear capability. For one thing, if we did acknowledge it, maybe not now with the normalization going forward with some Arab countries, but for a long time, the ability for Arabs to say, "we don't know for sure that Israel has nuclear weapons" has been advantageous because this way pressure would not be put on these Arab governments by their populations to follow suit. So it's been useful fiction, and I don't see any real reason to change that now.

KAPLAN: I think the whole enterprise of nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy is built in part on many useful fictions. For example, it's a legitimate question. If somebody attacked us with nuclear weapons, should we attack back? But this is something that you don't even want to talk about, especially in any official capacity, because that might reduce the potency of the determined threat. Extended deterrence—are we really going to use nuclear weapons if, say, Taiwan is invaded by China? Again, it's something that you don't even want to discuss seriously, at least in public, because it would, you know, reduce the deterrent value of these nuclear weapons. So in some ways, anytime anything about nuclear policy is brought up, we are all sort of running in the street blindfolded with scissors, and in a way, we're hoping, on a prayer and a dime, that this won't get out of hand. But yes, again, if you do face these matters bluntly and frankly, you could get into even more trouble. So that's part of the paradox of the whole enterprise.

Q: Does anyone want to answer the second question?

KAPLAN: Which one was that?

Q: The one no one answered. And that is, would you advise the Biden administration to do what the Trump administration did, which was sign an agreement that we will continue to make it actually illegal for any official to say that they have nuclear weapons and not to raise the question of their force publicly at any time?

KAPLAN: Is it illegal for a U.S. official to say that?

Q: By regulation, it is, yes.

GORDON: Laura or Lisa, you have any thoughts on this before we wind up?

GORDON-HAGERTY: I guess I would say that I agree with Bob and Fred's analysis that perhaps there's a political aspect of it, and I don't think that there's any use in moving forward in acknowledging Israel whether or not they're a nuclear weapon state. So I'm with Fred and Bob on this point, so I'm not sure what that would do and whether or not we're going to require officials to sign such a policy or adhere to such a policy. So I'm not quite sure. Sometimes leaving well enough alone is probably good enough in the sphere.

GORDON: So we've sort of come to the end of this wide-ranging and provocative discussion. And so, you know, I'd like to thank everyone who participated in this—Bob Einhorn, Lisa Gordon-Haggerty, Laura Holgate, and Fred Kaplan, and his book again is called The Bomb. And this video and transcript of this meeting are going to be posted on the CFR website, so you'll be able to go back to it. So thank you for participating in the event.

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