Office of the Spokesperson
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, thanks for the chance to talk. After lots of questions from lots of you, we decided that it would be very helpful to get together and talk a little bit today about the administration’s approach to making arms control into a tool of cutting-edge relevance for meeting the security challenges of today’s and tomorrow’s world, and also to talk about how we see and how we are examining the question of New START extension through that prism.
As you’ve probably heard many, many times, we are in the process of evaluating the possibility of extending New START, taking into account the range of threats that we face today, the changing security environment, and that sort of thing.
President Trump has made very clear that it is important that arms control answer the threat of – the range of threats that the current world presents, and that this arms control – next-generation arms control, the future of arms control, if you will, go beyond just the traditional bilateral context that we all became used to during the Cold War, and that it cover not only more parties than before, specifically bringing in China as well as Russia, but also that it cover more systems than is currently covered by – than are currently covered by New START.
So we need to make sure that it covers not only what is currently covered by New START, but the range of new Russian systems that are being developed that are not and would not be New START accountable. Some of these sort of slightly exotic new systems such as the nuclear-powered, underwater, nuclear-armed drone called Poseidon; the nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed cruise missile, air-launched ballistic missile and that sort of thing. So these are systems that are not currently covered by New START. We hope very much to bring them within the framework of arms control, just as we hope to find an answer to systems that are currently controlled by New START, and as we hope to find an answer to the challenge presented by Russia’s large and increasingly diverse range of non-strategic systems, of which they have something on the order of up to 2,000 or so today, and they are on track to increase the size of that non-strategic arsenal as well.
So these are all parts of our focus as we think about the future of arms control. Bringing China into the mix is critical here as well. China has enjoyed having both Moscow and Washington constrained by strategic arms control, and it is on track to at least double the size of its arsenal over the next few years. That is not just a question of numbers, although its numbers are increasing quite notably, but it’s also a question of the range and diversity of delivery systems, and a range of systems that are both – that are capable both of nuclear delivery and non-nuclear delivery.
So all of these things are part of the problem set that we think it is imperative to address. We are not building up our arsenal. We remain within New START limits. Our program of record for modernization is very clear and it’s very public about this. We are replacing legacy systems with modernized versions of the same nuclear triad we have had for many years in order to keep our deterrent relevant and to make it effective in deterring aggression for the next generation as well, but we are not building up in the way that the Russians and the Chinese are.
But it’s imperative that an answer be found to those Russian and Chinese nuclear buildups if we are to forestall the kind of arms race that their decisions could perhaps prompt. And that’s why President Trump is focused so much upon the imperative of trilateral arms control and why we are working to make that vision into a reality. And we are looking at the question of New START extension through the prism of how best to get to that trilateral solution that the President has demanded that we try to build in order to forestall an arms race.
So that’s the basic thrust of where we are going and what we are trying to do, and I’d be happy to talk further about that.
MODERATOR: You have a radio voice. Did anyone ever tell you? Doesn’t he have a good voice?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think I have a face for radio. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Not true. Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. Well, given the fact that the Chinese have shown absolutely no interest in joining any kind of a – joining this kind of thing, what are the options that you’re looking – that the administration is looking at to both expand the agreement – any agreement to include the Chinese and to also expand the scope, as you mentioned before, to include particularly the Russian – the exotic Russian new things? I mean, what are your options, what are you looking at, and what’s the timeframe?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, China has claimed that they are not interested in arms control negotiations, but they also have said that they are interested in dialogue about how to handle strategic challenges. We have invited them to engage in a strategic security dialogue very much analogous to the one that we are, I think, quite successfully engaged in with the Russians at the moment. We had the most recent of those engagements with the Russians in January, and we would very much like to have Chinese counterparts to sit down with. We think it’s very important not only that there be solutions found to these problems, but that China live up to its obligation to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to ending – preventing a nuclear arms race.
QUESTION: Right. So what obligations?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, actually the phrasing I just quoted here comes from Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Each state under the treaty is obliged in an operative, legally binding clause of the treaty to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to ending the nuclear arms race at an early date. It’s not a stretch to urge that countries behave as – who are nuclear weapons possessors behave as responsible possessors, and work to manage the risks attendant to that possession. We would like very much to see the Chinese sit down with us and engage in those kinds of talks. You all have – when demands are made of us to do something that we are not inclined to do, you all have never been shy about urging us to move ahead nonetheless, and I hope that we can all be of one voice in telling Beijing that it is imperative that they sit down and engage in serious talks on this topic sooner rather than later.
I myself invited the Chinese back in the 19th of December to engage in a strategic security dialogue of that sort. They have yet formally to respond to us at all. I hope that they will do so soon, and we look forward to having this kind of engagement with them, but I think it is – I think we can all perhaps help make that more likely, rather than less likely, by drawing attention to the fact that they are simultaneously building up their nuclear arsenal and refusing to talk about how to rein in the threats that that creates through arms control. Perhaps we can tell a better story about China’s willingness to engage on that front soon.
QUESTION: You said December or January 19th?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: December of – December 19 of ’19.
MODERATOR: Michael, go ahead.
QUESTION: , President Trump has talked about establishing a – cap, I think was the term he used – for Chinese forces – sort of to Chinese capabilities.
I have a question: A cap on what? Would this be a cap on warheads, a cap on launchers? Could you explain in a little more detail what your concept is for constraining Chinese forces, since you’ve made an argument why that’s important?
And also, President Trump and actually Vladimir Putin have both talked about having – discussing arms control in the Security Council, I believe in the September timeframe, I guess in the context of UNGA. Could you explain how that fits into this unfolding process?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, China’s officials have themselves said that they don’t seek parity with either the United States or Russia, and that they will not ever engage in an arms race. Now, to the degree that those are true statements – and I certainly hope that they are – then there is reason, I would argue, for China to engage in discussions with us and with Russia about what to do about making sure that what – the competitive challenge that we all face with each other does not escalate into a very, very dangerous arms race.
China and Russia clearly look askance at each other’s nuclear arsenals. You can see this; they vote with their feet, in a sense, by – and signal this by having on-site inspection arrangements of a sort, and launch – missile launch notification agreements between them. And what that signals to me is both that they see some reason to be concerned about each other’s arsenals – which is quite reasonable since I think they probably should be, and their history between the two of them suggests lots of reasons for concern – but also that it’s not at all impossible to engage China in transparency and confidence-building measures, which is a part of the arms control undertaking.
So we’re optimistic that it will be possible to engage both with Russia and with China, and to bring those bilateral engagements forward into a trilateral engagement that will ultimately result in the kind of agreement that President Trump has tasked us with trying to come to. So we are cautiously optimistic, and hope very much to be engaged with both, not just one, of those two parties in the very near future.
QUESTION: But what do you want – what’s the cap on? You talked about a cap. Capping what? Warheads? What’s the concept?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I will leave that for buildout at the appropriate time, but I don’t have that for you today.
MODERATOR: Sanger, go ahead, and then Katrina.
QUESTION: Hi, . Thanks very much for doing this. The President at one point said maybe he could reach an agreement with the Russians first, and then bring the Chinese in. And then the Secretary, at another point in a radio interview, said it wasn’t clear that the caps would have to be all the same for everyone. In other words, I think that what brought – drove the question was: Are you suggesting that the Chinese build up to 1,550 from their current 300? Which nobody thinks would be a fabulous, great idea. Could you talk a little bit about what your thinking is about those two issues, both phasing this so maybe you could do a renewal of the existing agreement and then spend a year bringing the Chinese in – or two years – and also what this idea of variable caps would look like?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not going to forecast the outcome of negotiations before they even start. But I will say that the history of approaches to arms control offer a lot of different models and tools for how things are or could be done, a whole range of transparency and confidence-building measures that are available from the historical record to show how others have tried to struggle with perhaps analogous challenges in the past.
There are different approaches to limitation. There are different approaches to whether an agreement is symmetrical or not and how exactly one approaches verification. So there are lots of arrows in the quiver, if you will, to draw upon in deciding how to address today’s challenges of meeting, from our perspective, the needs of reining in the new exotic Russian systems that are not subject to New START accountability, covering things that are currently covered by New START but over a much longer period of time, covering the nonstrategic arsenal that the Russians are in the process of building up, and covering the full range of China’s diverse and expanding nuclear arsenal.
There are lots of different tools one can draw upon from historical practice to think about how to meet those needs, but I am not in a position to forecast now the outcome of what has yet to begin to be discussed with our parties. But I hope that, as I say, that will all be underway quite soon.
QUESTION: And this phasing thing that I mentioned —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t have anything for you at this time.
MODERATOR: Katrina, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks. Katrina Manson from The Financial Times. As you wait for the response to your December 19th invitation, have you had any informal suggestion that a response is coming? And do you have any authority or are you working outside the silo of arms control? Do you have anything else to sort of offer or push, for example on trade or intellectual property? Is there a sense that this is solely within its lane, or are you working in a bigger context?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, this invitation to the Chinese Government has to do with strategic security dialogue. That’s a fairly broad issue. It’s not solely on the topic of arms control. By analogy, what we have been discussing with the Russians are a range of issues ranging – such things as nuclear stockpiles, nuclear strategy, crisis and arms race stability. The role and potential future of arms control is part of that but not the exclusive topic of discussion. We would like very much to have that range of strategically focused engagements with the Chinese as well as with the Russians.
I should note that the Russian Strategic Security Dialogue – we have had under this administration three of them so far, in 2017, in the summer of 2019, and then again this past January. This one in January was the first instance at which the – a specific agenda item on the potential future of arms control became part of these discussions. So we are working in concrete ways to build that dialogue forward, looking towards what we hope will ultimately be the President’s vision of a trilateral arms control agreement that covers more parties and more systems than arms control has ever covered before. That would be a great step forward. And the next step, I think, is for the Chinese to sit down with us and begin to have those conversations as well.
QUESTION: And did you – sorry, just on the – any unofficial indication that they will be replying soon?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The word “soon” has been used, and I hope that that’s correct.
QUESTION: Well, I have a similar question. I was wondering if you have gotten any indication from the Chinese that they would be willing to talk in isolation about arms control at a time when tensions are sort of being ratcheted up with what the Secretary calls the Wuhan virus and differences over how to treat reporters, or do you find that sort of these current sources of tension, are they getting in the way of your ability to talk with the Chinese about arms control?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I haven’t seen any sign that they are getting in the way, and I would argue, as we have said with respect to the Russians as well, that when it comes to talking about issues of strategic security and nuclear weapons of this sort, it is not – it is not important to talk to them despite challenges in the broader relationship but important to talk to them because of challenges in the current relationship. The more troublesome and problematic and poisonous the other aspects of a relationship are, the more important it is for that relationship not to spiral into nuclear arms racing and potential escalation.
So, if anything, that is all the more reason for them to come to the table and talk with us as responsible nuclear stewards of nuclear weapons should do. They place great stock in how the rest of the world views them as a responsible power and a great power, and I would encourage them to behave as great powers do and as we and the Russians are already modeling by sitting down and talking together about these sorts of things. And they know what to do and they know how to reach us, and we’re looking forward to hearing from them.
MODERATOR: Kylie, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this. Just to follow up on the reports that President Trump has agreed to the nuclear summit with France and the UK as well as Russia and China, have you guys gotten any commitment from the French and the UK that they will indeed attend such a summit?
And then just to put a bit of a finer point on the coronavirus question, is it your belief that coronavirus has contributed in any way to the Chinese delay in their response, or do you view them as completely separate issues?
MODERATOR: You – are you asking if the coronavirus has anything to do with delay of the Chinese on the – on nuclear negotiations or on New START?
QUESTION: An administration official told me they think that that might have contributed, so I just wanted to see if that was a sentiment at the State Department as well, or do you think that’s kind of a excuse.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I won’t characterize the reasons either for or – whatever there might be behind this delay. We certainly hope that it will be a non-issue shortly by virtue of them coming back to us and saying that they are happy to have that kind of a discussion.
And as for the P5 summit idea, President Trump has signaled his openness to some kind of a P5 summit. I will not get out in front of any engagements and planning that there may be on that topic, but to the degree that these topics are part of the summit, I look forward to seeing where it goes.
MODERATOR: Nick. Nick and then Nick.
QUESTION: , could I just get you to – just to pin this down, something that David was alluding to: Would a Chinese refusal to participate in these topics automatically mean that there would be no discussion or no attempt by the administration to renew START exclusively with Russia?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’m not going to predict any outcome to the ongoing discussions that are underway about how to approach this broader issue of trilateral arms control and the nested within it issue of New START extension. Certainly as a matter of substance, if there were ever to be discussions purely, again, bilaterally with the Russians on the future of arms control, it would be – that would be a discussion that would be inevitably constrained by some – to some degree by the fact that China was not part of the discussion. If a serious answer is to be found to these range of issues, I would argue that all three need to be in the mix somehow because what each party will think it needs to do vis-a-vis the excluded party will constrain what they can agree to as between themselves. And that’s true no matter which way the bilateral slice goes, and that’s why the President’s insight that trilateral arms control has to be the answer is such an important one.
QUESTION: Two basic – hey, . Thanks for doing this. Just two basic questions: Do you believe that New START gives the U.S. visibility into the Russian system? Are there advantages to New START? And do you think that New START alone would take more than one day to negotiate? There’s been some debate between the Americans and the Russians on this.
And then just to put a point on what David was saying, again, why not extend New START and then deal with all the other topics in the future?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as to how we characterize New START itself, there have been a number of congressional reports that we send periodically describing compliance with and benefits of the treaty. I don’t think anyone is arguing that there are no benefits to New START. The only question is how do we best approach the question of New START extension along the road to getting the longer-term answer and the better answer that covers more countries and more systems than before – how do we get best to that road. And as told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in testimony back in December, if were convinced that extending New START either to some degree – because one doesn’t have to extend it just for five years; you can do one, two, three, or four years as well.
Those are all alternative possibilities. If I thought that extending it was the best way to get to the President’s trilateral arms control vision, I would absolutely be in favor, and if I thought there were a better way that didn’t involve – if I thought the way to get to that – the best way to get to that vision was not to extend New START, I would be in favor of not extending it. We are not forecasting what that answer is. These are things that our principals are chewing on almost in real time, and it’s – the decision hasn’t been taken yet, but I have every confidence that we will be able to talk much more about it at some point in the future.
QUESTION: And then to the idea of the actual length of time that it would take to extend New START on a bilateral – is the belief that you could quickly do it in a day, as I’ve heard some people say, or as the Russians say that it would take a lot longer?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, from a U.S. perspective, our understanding is that legally speaking the extension of the treaty provision – the extension is already baked into the text of the treaty, which has already been subject to advice and consent and ratification. So from our perspective it would take I think nothing more than an exchange of diplomatic notes. I will leave it to the Russians to characterize what their process might or might not involve, but I suspect that Vladimir Putin is not the sort of fellow who’s likely to have a lot of trouble from his legislature.
MODERATOR: I want to get you out on time so you actually come back. Anybody have a question?
QUESTION: I just have – just the practicalities of that. So does that mean that the deadline for you guys to act is whatever – whatever the day was – January of next year, that you can put if off until the very last minute to decide what to do? And do you – and are you practically staffed up for a serious negotiation like the one you’re talking about?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would say that we are not thinking in terms of deadlines, although of course there is a deadline – this ends at the end of the process. But my point was merely that we are – it is not absolutely imperative the decision be made, say, this week or this month in order to make sure, if an extension decision were made, that it could be executed in time. We’ve got time to work these things through. It is not – time is passing but it is not urgent and these things are – there is still some flexibility in the joints, if you will.
QUESTION: Just a – real quick, point of clarification?
MODERATOR: This is it, but we’re going to do serious last question.
QUESTION: If the – serious last question.
QUESTION: If the – if the treaty does lapse, is that quick extension still available to both parties or would it have to be ratified by the Senate again? So if you decide a week after the treaty lapses that you want to extend it for a year, is that still possible in Nick’s quick fix?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I might speculate on that, but I think it would be better to refer you to State legal advisor on those questions. Sorry. Great.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thanks for doing that, .
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s a pleasure.