New Paradigms Forum Proliferation Issues and Much More …


Inaugurating a New and More Realistic Global Disarmament Dialogue


Below are remarks that Assistant Secretary Ford delivered to the First Plenary Meeting of the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) Working Group in Washington, D.C., on July 2, 2019. They can also be found here, on the website of the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.

Good morning, Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen.  Welcome to Washington, and to the First Plenary Meeting of the “Creating an Environment Working Group” (CEWG) under the auspices of the “Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament” (CEND) Initiative.

Let me start by thanking you, Under Secretary Thompson, for your continued leadership and support in this important initiative.  Without you, there would be no CEND initiative and no CEWG for us to attend here today.  But I should also thank all of the rest of you, too, for it is a great pleasure to see you here today as we inaugurate a new diplomatic dialogue to begin exploring possible ways forward for disarmament in a troubled world.

It’s been some time now since this idea first began to develop.  The initial review we undertook of our nuclear policies at the beginning of this administration focused principally upon trying to get our theoryright – that is, to help chart a conceptual course to a new disarmament discourse that offered both a more realistic and a more honest approach at a time of challenging security conditions.  The review did not, at that point, have a crisp concept of precisely how to build a diplomatic dialogue going forward.

But there is now such a path opening in front of us, and that’s why we welcome all of you here today.  We hope the CEWG process being set in motion during the next two days will indeed mark a turning point in the global disarmament discourse – the point at which countries begin to come together in exploring possible answers to the challenges standing in the way of disarmament with fresh eyes, and with more clarity than ever.

I. A Unique Assemblage

All along, it has been our hope to ensure for the CEWG a range of participants broad enough to ensure the diversity of perspectives required for serious exploration of how to ameliorate conditions in the global security environment and make it more conducive to safe and sustainable disarmament.  And, so far, I think this is working well.

At a time of global divisions, worsening geopolitical challenges, and a general climate of poisonous politico-ideological competition, it is heartening to see such a diverse range of participants here.

In truth, this group would have been broader still if we had been able to accommodate all who wished to participate.  Unfortunately, in order to maintain both a suitably broad range of viewpoints and a manageable number of interlocutors, we had to turn several would-be participants away who very much wanted to be part of these discussions – and would have been able to make very valuable contributions.  That pains me, but it is also a sign of how interesting and promising many thoughtful diplomats find this project.

Needless to say, every country has a stake in the dialogue around nuclear disarmament.  CEND’s success depends upon not only the active engagement of countries participating directly in the CEWG, but also input from those not directly participating.  I encourage you to consult with countries in your respective regions to keep them apprised of CEND conversations and bring their input into the process.

All in all, I think this group is wonderfully positioned and prepared for the rich dialogue ahead of us.  So what is plan going forward?

II. The Project Ahead of Us

It is no secret this effort is related to and is intended to support the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  But it is not defined by, or limited to, the NPT.  Not everyone in this room comes from a state that is a Party to the NPT.  Indeed, we do not wish this dialogue and this CEND process to be a specifically NPT-centric undertaking, for if this disarmament discourse is to have a future, it must be more inclusive and broadly-focused than that.  Nevertheless, I hope you’ll permit me at least to reference the NPT, because to my eye it articulates two critical yet often overlooked principles that lie at the conceptual core of this initiative.

First, the NPT’s Preamble articulates the utterly commonsensical importance of “ easing … tensions and strengthening … trust among states in order to facilitate” disarmament – that is, its drafters understood and its signatories affirmed that progress depends at least in part on improvements in the political and security conditions of the real world in which disarmament-related decisions are made.  The NPT’s second core concept that can inform us in this Working Group process is that the measures we have undertaken to pursue in our search for a viable and sustainable path to disarmament need to be effective measures, as noted in the Treaty’s Article VI.  The wisdom in these two core disarmament concepts transcends the legal formalities of NPT accession, and can help guide our deliberations irrespective of our country’s specific relationship to the Treaty.  I hope you will keep these principles very much in mind in our discussions today.

In order to explore how to come up with more “effective measures” to bring about the “easing of tension and strengthening of trust in order to facilitate” disarmament, we will be dividing Plenary participants into three groups, each of which will have a chance to exchange perspectives and brainstorm ideas in three general topic areas:

  1. Reducing perceived incentives for states to retain, acquire, or increase their holdings of nuclear weapons.
  2. Multilateral and other types of institutions and processes to bolster nonproliferation efforts and build confidence in, and further advance, nuclear disarmament.
  3. Interim measures to address risks associated with nuclear weapons and to reduce the likelihood of war among nuclear-armed states.

These three issue areas are deliberately broad and intended to cover the full range of possibilities, but where we go with them is ultimately up to you.

As your groups rotate through these thematic discussions, we will be operating under Chatham House Rules.  Specifically, you should feel free to use any of the information you receive here – and we hope you will, since the whole point of this dialogue is to generate wisdom and ideas that can be brought into real-world decision-making.  Nevertheless, neither the identity nor the affiliation of any given speaker, nor that of any other participant, may be revealed to non-participants without express permission from the persons in question.  We implore you to follow this stricture carefully, as it is essential in order to permit the kind of free, open, and honest discussions that this critical topic badly needs.

We have two procedural facilitators here, who will help us manage the individual discussion sessions.  They are Ray Leki and Beth Adler, who join us from the Department of State Foreign Service Institute (FSI), where U.S. diplomats are trained, and for whose help we are enormously grateful.  In addition to these professional facilitators from FSI, we are also pleased to have with us today three subject-matter experts from civil society, each of whom will manage the brainstorming and interactive discussions in one of the topic groups.

Our three subject matter facilitators are world-renowned experts in their own right.  George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will manage the discussions and brainstorming with regard to the first issue area (on reducing perceived nuclear weapons incentives.  Heather Williams of King’s College London will be your discussion manager for the second one (on multilateral and other institutions and processes, and Sico van der Meer of the Clingendael Institute will handle the third issue area (on interim measures).  We are delighted to have them here, and we are grateful for their participation.

Let me stress that we want this to be as free and open an engagement process as possible.  This should not be just another of those multilateral events in which everyone speaks in set-piece performances to share well-known views or castigate others for theirs.  We are here to develop a productive way forward.  Therefore, while no one should be asked to abandon strongly-held policy views, I would encourage you to focus more upon how we can build a better world together than upon trading recriminations about the present.

I hope and expect that no one has come here aiming to use this dialogue as just another forum for self-indulgent criticism of a rival or a neighbor rather than contributing to constructive thinking about what the world will need to look like if it is to achieve the goal of disarmament, for this isn’t that kind conference – and we can all do much better than that.  In these discussions, our fingers should be principally pointed not at each other but toward ideas and thinking that could yield a brighter and safer future.

To help make constructive engagement possible, our facilitators have designed our agenda and working methods to make these discussions as free-flowing, interactive, and dynamic as we can.  I would urge to you set aside your normal diplomatic reflexes and expectations, and approach these Plenary meetings more like academic seminars or product-design brainstorming sessions.  You will be asked – and pushed – to generate creative new ideas to use on the issues that you have helped to identify. This will be demanding work, and we will not have time to revisit nor debate past approaches or moribund issues.  The only price of admission here is good faith and a commitment to thoughtful dialogue.

Our hope is that the discussions over the next two days will prepare the way for much more in-depth follow-up work by three CEWG subgroups in the months and years ahead.  Our collective assignment at this Plenary is to identify key questions to be explored by those subgroups within each of the three thematic areas we will be examining.   Our subject-matter facilitators will also try to distill key points and themes from your group discussions, which we will compile into an attribution-free compendium to help enrich follow-on discussions and keep others in the outside world informed.

We will also need to identify subgroup co-chairs to lead this important work, and an initial set of topics for each of the subgroups to pursue further.  In selecting those initial topics, I would encourage each of you to focus on issues that seem most promising for identifying actions that could be taken in the near term, recognizing that more difficult or controversial topics may require more time before they are ripe for practical consideration.  These decisions, as well as any outcomes from subgroups, should be made in the spirit of good faith dialogue.  There will be no joint communique to mark this first meeting, though we may issue a brief, factual press statement.

Our proceedings today will set the stage for an ongoing dialogue through additional subgroup and plenary meetings, as well as intercessional work.  We hope this will feed into the NPT review process and expect to present some kind of progress report on subgroup work at the 2020 Review Conference, but this effort will obviously extend beyond 2020 and be more encompassing than the NPT.  If we are successful in our work together, the CEND initiative should open up new avenues for constructive dialogue leading to greater clarity on what needs to be done for further progress on disarmament.

III. Conclusion

In a moment, I will turn things over to Mark Goodman from the State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, who will give our facilitators and subject matter experts a chance briefly to introduce themselves – after which Mark will give you a bit more detail about the game plan over the next couple of days.  Before I conclude, however, let me thank you again for attending, and for giving this valuable initiative a chance to begin exploring how to make the world a safer and more secure place.

When it comes to the future of the global disarmament enterprise, no one who has been following world events for the last several years could imagine that the path ahead is easy, or that success is in any way guaranteed.  Nevertheless, at a time when the security environment has been deteriorating and the received conventional wisdoms of the disarmament community seem to have run out of steam, the explorations upon which we set out today are a point of light.

Indeed, given the continuing security challenges that impede or imperil the disarmament project, I think it is not merely the case that discussions like this are the best approach currently available.  To come full circle, I would wager an “environment”-focused global disarmament discourse aimed at the amelioration of security challenges – one that draws inspiration from the exhortation in the NPT Preamble to ease tension and strengthen trust in order to facilitate disarmament – is likely the onlyapproach with a chance of providing us all a viable path to disarmament.

This is perhaps a bit intimidating to contemplate, but it also means that you are engaged in a collective effort that can have an important impact.  Thank you again for coming.  Let’s get things started.

-- Christopher Ford

About Dr. Ford

Dr. Christopher Ford served from January 2018 until January 2021 as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation. For the last 15 months of this period, he additionally performed the duties of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Before this service at the State Department, he served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for WMD and Counterproliferation on the U.S. National Security Council staff, and before that as Chief Legislative Counsel for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chief Investigative Counsel for the Senate Banking Committee, Republican Chief Counsel for the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute, U.S. Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Minority Counsel and then General Counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Staff Director of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. A graduate of Harvard (summa cum laude), Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar), and the Yale Law School, Dr. Ford was also ordained by Roshi Joan Halifax of the Upaya Zen Center as a lay chaplain in a lineage of Soto Zen Buddhism. He was a jujutsu student of the late Grandmaster Dong Jin Kim of the Jigo Tensin Ryu lineage, and is a member of Dai Nippon Butoku Kai with Sandan (3rd degree black belt) rank. Dr. Ford served from 1994 until 2011 as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Chatham House, and the Council on Foreign Relations. In September 2017, he was promoted by Queen Elizabeth II of England to the rank of Commander in the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. Dr. Ford is the author of the books "China Looks at the West: Identity, Global Ambitions, and the Future of Sino-American Relations" (2015), "The Mind of Empire: China's History and Modern Foreign Relations" (2010), and "The Admirals' Advantage: U.S. Navy Operational Intelligence in World War II and the Cold War" (2005). He also co-edited "Rethinking the Law of Armed Conflict in an Age of Terrorism" (2012). For a list of his publications, see The views he expresses on this website are entirely his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, in or out of government.
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