Ukrainian Crisis Not Affecting Nuclear Disarmament Efforts, U.S. Official Says

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

While the crisis between Ukraine and Russia is a serious international concern, it is not affecting nuclear disarmament efforts, the State Department's top arms control official said May 9.

"Nuclear deterrents are not at play in this crisis. It's not nuclear weapons that have anything to do with what's happening in the crisis in Ukraine. Deterrence is stable at the moment," said Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security told reporters in Washington, D.C.

For the past two weeks, nations from around the globe have met at the United Nations in New York for the 3rd Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The crisis between Ukraine and Russia — in which Russia annexed Crimea — was discussed during meetings, but has not taken away from disarmament efforts, Gottemoeller said.

The conflict in Ukraine has opened old Cold War wounds between the United States and Russia leading to concerns about nuclear disarmament. Analysts have speculated that continued tensions could stall efforts between the West and Russia to eliminate their nuclear stockpiles.

"At PrepCom, the issue was present but not disruptive. We condemned Russia's action and commended Ukraine for its reaffirmation to … fulfilling its non-proliferation commitments under the NPT," Gottemoeller said. "Ukraine has been a strong partner on the non-proliferation issue since our entering the NPT in 1994."

Russia's behavior in Crimea is troubling because it is in violation of several treaties that it and other Western countries have signed on to, she said.

"Russia's occupation of Crimea and its ongoing efforts to undermine the territorial integrity of Ukraine and its legitimate government are inconsistent with a number of its international obligations — in fact, egregiously inconsistent," Gottemoeller said.

She pointed to the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, which assured Ukraine that treaty nations — including Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom — would respect Ukraine's independence and borders if it committed to eliminating its nuclear weapons arsenal.

While the conflict is a top concern, the U.S. government isn't forgetting its commitment to dismantling nuclear weapons, Gottemoeller said.

"We shouldn't shoot ourselves in the foot in terms of stopping or halting important national security work that prevents nuclear bombs from getting in the hands of terrorists because we have other great concerns," Gottemoeller said. "We can walk and chew gum at the same time."

The United States has made great strides in paring down its nuclear arsenal, she said.

The United States recently declassified documents that revealed that the U.S. stockpile of nukes currently consists of 4,804 warheads. That's down by 85 percent from the all time high of 31,255 warheads at the end of fiscal year 1967.

"We are back to where we were in 1957," Gottemoeller said.

Since Sept. 30, 2009, the United States has dismantled 1,204 nuclear warheads, State Department documents said. Several thousand additional nuclear weapons are awaiting dismantlement.
More still needs to be done, she said.

"We have come down. Is it enough? No," Gottemoeller said. "The president said we want to get to zero. It's going to take time. It's going to take hard work, but we're ready to work."

Gottemoeller said she was pleased with how talks went at PrepCom. "I thought the environment was overall very productive, very positive," she said. "It hasn't always been that way. Sometimes it has been quite rancorous."

Better transparency between countries is still needed, she said. This is particularly true between members of the United Nations Security Council known as the “Permanent Five." The P5 comprises the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China.

The P5 nations recently agreed to submit  reports detailing each of their nuclear arsenals, Gottemoeller said. Because some countries, particularly China, have not always been as forthcoming about their nuclear weapons, this agreement is a "big step forward," she said.

"[The P5 nations] are starting to work together much more efficiently and effectively than we have historically," she said.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Policy, International

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