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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter December 03, 2012

Remarks by Deputy Secretary Carter at the Cooperative Threat Reduction Symposium at National Defense University, Washington, D.C.

Well good afternoon. Thank you, David, for that introduction, and for enriching our understanding of the Cold War arms race and our nuclear legacy through your own reporting and scholarship.

Thanks General Martin -- where’s General Martin, he’s outside meeting the Secretary -- John Reichart, and the entire NDU team for hosting this symposium. NDU and its Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction, provide invaluable research support to us in the Department in our counter-WMD mission, and I want to thank them, all of our colleagues there, for what you have done to advance our work in this critical area.

Senator Nunn, Senator Lugar, it is wonderful to celebrate this important milestone for the CTR program with both of you here. It is and will forever be the privilege of my lifetime to have been an eyewitness to the history that you two wrote and are still writing, and that we honor today.

To appreciate the magnitude of what Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar accomplished, you got to go back in time, to a period during the Cold War, long before the Soviet Union collapsed, when many thought that nuclear security inhered mainly in the nuclear weapons systems themselves -- who had what -- and in the hard logic of deterrence through mutually assured destruction.

Sam Nunn's and Dick Lugar's first great insight was that a nuclear war between two superpowers might also not happen on purpose, but instead by accident, during a crisis. This, in turn, led their attention to the people and institutions that governed the stewardship and potential use of nuclear weapons.

They urged both sides to negotiate understandings and create joint mechanisms that would make the nuclear standoff more stable by smoothing communications and preventing misunderstandings that could trigger a fateful nuclear exchange.

By the late 1980s, however, Mikhail Gorbachev was ending the Cold War and, with it, the likelihood of this kind of crisis.

But the August 1991 failed coup awakened a whole other set of concerns, as it became clear that Gorbachev’s effort to modernize the Soviet Union was leading to the destruction of Stalin’s empire.

What Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar understood -- and this was their second great insight -- was that the nuclear systems that supported the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union were fundamentally social and human, and that we were witnessing, for the first time in history, the disintegration of a social system that had nuclear weapons in its possession -- the people again.

As the Soviet Union disintegrated, they realized before anyone else that the danger of a Soviet nuclear attack was being replaced by a new and unprecedented danger: the possibility that its nuclear arsenal might fall into entirely new and unaccustomed hands. Instantaneous proliferation on a massive scale and worse, and totally new, the specter of nukes falling into sub-state, even terrorist hands -- events for which deterrence would not offer protection.

Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar took us on all of these excursions, which weren't obvious to many people at the time.

Next, just as they had a practical response to the prospect of an accidental US-Soviet war during the Cold War, they devised a practical program to address the loose nuke threat.

And they had the vision and the political courage to act on those insights, to suggest that in order to prevent the spread of loose nukes in the former Soviet Union, we needed to engage -- and even more, assist -- the same Soviet scientists, generals, and leaders whom we declared our sworn enemies.

This was a counter-intuitive idea. That we, who had tried for half a century, to drive the Soviet Union into the ground and into bankruptcy, should be assisting them in any way, and particularly with respect to their nuclear arsenal, was a paradoxical, and highly controversial idea at the time.

But Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar were right, and just as importantly, they were able to persuade the governments of the United States and Russia and the all the successor states of the former Soviet Union, to follow suit by making it physically and, above all, socially and politically possible for them to do the right thing, which was to reduce the nuclear threat.

And thanks to their efforts, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus all denuclearized. By the mid 1990s, all the former Soviet states became NPT signatories. And Russia was reducing and safeguarding the nuclear arsenal of the U.S.S.R.

Historians should look back at what might have happened, but didn’t, thanks to Nunn-Lugar. Imagine the alternative if loose nukes from the former Soviet Union had gotten into bin Laden’s hands, into the hands of other terrorists with odious causes, or rogue states, or some renegade Russian general, or a host of nations that might feel obligated to go nuclear themselves once the proliferation floodgates had been opened. Contemplate all that, and you see the enduring value of Nunn-Lugar.

Of course, none of that happened. And that’s why historians will long remember Nunn-Lugar. But we still live with a dangerous nuclear residue in Russia and the former Soviet Union states, and the Nunn-Lugar program continues to work to lessen its danger.

But, and this is important, the Nunn-Lugar idea of Cooperative Threat Reduction, did not stop at Russian nukes. It has constantly evolved, and still does so today. And it will continue to do so.

Three types of evolution are unfolding.

The first is the geographic expansion of the Nunn-Lugar program. The disaggregation and increasing sophistication of terrorist organizations, coupled with leaps in technology that reduce the barriers to WMD acquisition, has required the U.S. and our partners to increase the global reach of the program beyond the former Soviet Union to close to 80 countries in all.

Second, the CTR program has increased its emphasis on countering the threat of biological and chemical weapons. Countering these threats was always part of the Nunn-Lugar program, but scientific and technological advancements have made these weapons more dangerous and more widespread.

On the biosecurity front, the CTR program is partnering with foreign governments and international health organizations around the world to counter emerging threats.

One such partnership is the Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia, which just opened this year. The facility is a regional biosurveillance hub that hosts Department of Defense researchers from Walter Reed, public health experts from the CDC, and Georgia's own health security agency.

The Center pursues three goals, which are the foundation of CTR's biosecurity work around the world.

The first is to improve information flow about disease outbreaks. We want a leg-up in determining whether an outbreak is naturally occurring or man-made.

The second is to improve our partner capacity, the "human factor" in bio-security -- better laboratory practices and systems to guard against the "insider threat."

And the third is to keep the most dangerous pathogens on earth consolidated and secured in the minimum number of well-guarded facilities.

The bio threat spans the realms of national security and public health in the public and private sectors. CTR is trying to bridge these gaps as it looks forward, and the Lugar Center is a major step ahead in that effort.

The third evolution of the CTR program has to do with the character and tenor of its partnerships, interagency and international.

Here at home, we are finding that the increasing integration with other federal agencies is amplifying our threat reduction efforts. While we have worked closely with the Departments of State and Energy for many years, really right from the beginning, we are tapping into valuable partnerships with other agencies in other non-traditional areas. The Centers of Disease Control and the Foreign Agricultural Service, for example, have unique health engagement relationships that the CTR program is relying on to secure biological facilities and increase biosurveillance of especially dangerous pathogens.

And overseas, the CTR program is emphasizing the importance of putting threat reduction into the hands of our frontline international partners. By building the capacity of other responsible nations, we are increasing their security and minimizing the likelihood that threats materialize across borders, including in the United States.

As we look to increase our partnership efforts to increase security and stability, we must not forget that WMD threats stemming from collapsed regimes remain today.

The CTR program must therefore maintain its critical capabilities in securing weapons and materials, elimination, and engaging with scientists and technical experts with WMD experience.

Just as the 1990s witnessed historic changes sweep across Central Asia, today we are in the midst of historic changes in the Middle East and North Africa. We now live in a post-Saddam and a post-Gaddafi era. A post-Assad era may soon follow.

The CTR Program is working with other defense, U.S. Government and international partners to secure and eliminate vulnerable former regime WMD stockpiles and materials, build capacity to prevent the proliferation of WMD and related material and to welcome newly established regimes into the global nonproliferation community. CTR will forever be a part of human governance because we can never forget what we know about these destructive weapons, and it will forever be associated with two names, Nunn and Lugar.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Nunn-Lugar program and contemplate its future, build its future, we in the United States find ourselves today at a strategic transition point for national defense.

After a decade of conflict, one war has ended, in Iraq. The other, in Afghanistan, has not ended for sure, but will transition soon to Afghan lead, thanks to the superb effort of men and women of U.S. and coalition forces. They’ve done exceptionally well.

But while we've been fighting insurgency and terrorism, the world has not stood still. Our friends and enemies have not stood still. And technology has not stood still.

So the time has come for us in the United States to look up, to look around, look out, to what the world will need next -- to the security challenges that will define our future after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now it’s important to note that we would need to make this transition no matter what. But we are subject to a second great current. And that is the need to keep the United States’ fiscal house in order, as outlined in the Budget Control Act, which Congress passed last year.

That act required the Department to remove $487 billion dollars from its budget plans over the next ten years. It also, by the way, threatened a drastic process of sequestration if Congress does not pass a comprehensive and balanced overall budget plan that the President can sign. Sequester -- not the subject of today’s symposium (laughter), I know (laughter), but a very important thing nonetheless -- would be chaotic, wasteful, and damaging to every function of government and should not take place.

Leaving aside sequester, while our base defense budget will not go down, neither will it continue to go up as it has for the last ten years. That’s the $487 billion difference.

So these two forces, one of strategic history, the other of fiscal responsibility, led us to design a new defense strategy for the 21st century, in a remarkable process this last winter steered personally by the President and Secretary Panetta. It truly was remarkable, and unprecedented in my experience.

And I want you to know that during that process, never once did the President or the Secretary consider cutting our investments in countering weapons of mass destruction. Never once.

They preserved them because they knew that programs like Nunn-Lugar remain our most effective and efficient instrument to prevent from the outset the costly and potentially deadly prospect of WMD use. For less than one one-hundredth of one percent of the annual defense budget, we are buying down the risk of having to respond to WMD use, to perform costly consequence management activities, to treat or halt the spread of deadly or contagious diseases, and most importantly, to save countless lives.

That is the legacy of the CTR program. And none of it would be possible without the vision, the leadership, the courage, and determination of two of our finest statesmen, Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar.

Both have contributed their tremendous talent to careers of public service. And while our focus is the CTR program, that is merely one manifestation of Senator Nunn’s and Senator Lugar’s remarkable contributions across the board to our nation’s security and to the security of all nations.

And to honor their achievement, to recognize their achievement, it is my distinct honor to welcome to the stage my boss, Secretary Panetta. (Applause).

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