U.S. Ambassador talks to the Capital Jewish Forum

May 9, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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“Make no mistake about America’s commitment to protect Israel.  The forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States…

“That is one reason why the relationship between the United States and Israel has never been more important.  As Secretary Clinton stated, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever.  When we strengthen Israel’s security, we strengthen our own security, we strengthen Australia’s security, and we strengthen the world’s security.”

In his first public address to an Australian Jewish community group, America’s ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, spoke to more than  40 Capital Jewish Forum members on ‘Nuclear Non-Proliferation: A New Start’ at the Australian National University.

J-Wire published the text of his talk in full,

“I want to thank the Capital Jewish Forum for hosting this event and having me here to speak with you.

You know, I admire the spirit of the Capital Jewish Forum.  In the United States, there’s a saying that the two subjects you should never discuss in public for fear of offending people are politics and religion.  You manage to bring up both of these subjects in just your name.  So out of admiration for the chutzpah of the CJF alone, I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to speak here.

Manny Waks with H.E. Jeffrey Bleich pic: Sylvia Deutch

What I’d like to discuss today is a subject that is very close to my heart and to the President; one that affects the security of Australia as well as all the countries of the world, in particular Israel.  It was the subject of the very first significant piece of legislation that President Obama wrote as a U.S. Senator and it has been a subject that he has doggedly pursued since taking federal office and frankly for as long as I’ve known him.  That topic is making the world safe from loose nukes and building a nuclear weapon free world.  His success in the past month on advancing this effort is not an accident; it is the product of years of work.  President Obama campaigned on reinvigorating U.S. non-proliferation efforts; he made it a priority issue in his Inaugural address; he made it his top priority in the Prague speech in Europe; and it was the subject of his first major White House summit.  So today, I’m going to talk about why the President and the United States are so focused on this issue, what is at stake, and what we have accomplished to-date.

Before I get there though, we should just pause over what has already been accomplished in just one year.  Just over a year ago, in April 2009, President Obama spoke in Prague of his vision of a world free from nuclear weapons.  Last month he returned to Prague with President Medvedev of Russia, the leaders of the world’s two greatest nuclear powers, and they signed the most significant nuclear arms reduction agreement in the past quarter century.  Two weeks after that, 47 nations convened in the White House and agreed to a concrete set of actions that will increase transparency, enforcement, and will move the world squarely in the direction of eliminating nuclear weapons from our planet. And as we speak today, all of the nations of the world are gathered in the United Nations to conduct a thorough review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and to move that treaty to the next level.

It will take more than one President’s term and perhaps even more than my lifetime.  But the process has begun by which we will once and for all stop the spread of nuclear weapons, eliminate nuclear arsenals, and secure loose nuclear materials so they do not fall into the hands of rogue states and criminal networks.  We are, in short, closer than we have been at any time in the past 65 years to ending nuclear terror.

What Is Driving The Nuclear Agenda

The strange, and the bold, thing about the President’s vision is that eliminating nuclear weapons is not a fashionable issue.  Military leaders today prefer to focus on the risk of new threats like cyber attacks.  Technologists focused on newer technologies like the revolution in energy and clean tech and bio-medicines.  Scientists too are less interested in fission and fusion than in the next global threat: climate change.  So nuclear weapons seem like a throwback to the Cold War.  While nuclear weapons were the foremost threat in the world 20 years ago we have started to view them as a theoretical concern that lives in the past, like mustard gas after WW I.   So why would this President, a President who had already inherited one of the most challenging agendas of any world leader in the past century add nuclear weapons as a priority in the first year of his administration?

The reason is both because the source of the threat has changed and because the consequence of the threat hasn’t changed.  What do I mean by that?  The source of the threat has changed.  It is true that the threat of a nuclear war between nation states has declined dramatically since the height of the cold war.  After investing billions of dollars in a nuclear arms race, the powers of the world that had built their defense systems largely around nuclear power all came to the same conclusion: one best expressed by President Ronald Reagan: “A nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.”  The cost to a nation of initiating a nuclear war was quite simply almost certain annihilation.  This made nuclear war an unwinnable war.  And so, the nations of the world have moved away from nuclear weapons and no longer see nukes as a path to security.

But at the same time the threat of a different kind of nuclear attack from a different source has increased – an attack by any one of several criminal terrorist networks.  These groups do not have the same concerns of nation states.  They do not operate from any particular nation and they have no government.  If they obtain nuclear weapons and launch a nuclear strike there is no place for the rest of the world to deliver a counter-strike. As a result, these groups have shown a keen interest in obtaining nuclear weapons.  That, combined with their willingness to indiscriminately kill civilians using a whole range of other unconventional weapons – commercial planes, suicide bombers, poison gases, or other WMDs – means that the risk of actual use of a nuclear weapon has never been greater.  The only question is whether they can get access.  After the fall of the Soviet Union, we know that significant nuclear stockpiles remain unaccounted for and are being actively sought by terrorists. And so while the threat of one kind of nuclear attack has declined, the threat of a different kind of nuclear attack has never been greater.

Pic; Sylvia Deutch

At the same time, the significance of the threat hasn’t changed.  After September 11 we now know to be true what we always feared: that a large-scale terror attack will not simply take thousands potentially hundreds of thousands or millions of lives, but it will change forever how we live and the things we hold most dear.  I lived in Washington DC before September 11.  Back then members of the public could tour the White House; joggers could run up and down the stairs of the Capitol, tour buses drove alongside the Supreme Court building.  You could arrive at the airport 15 minutes before your flight and still catch the flight.  The Government could not tap your phone without a warrant.  We did not have special detention facilities.  There was more freedom, openness, trust, and commitment to privacy.  After September 11, that changed utterly.  And that was an attack that killed under 3,000 people.  A nuclear attack anywhere in the world could kill hundreds of thousands.  And the goal of terrorists who would take those lives is not simply to kill those people, but to kill our faith and confidence that we can be safe while respecting human rights and civil liberties.  Their goal is to set back our Constitution, and all of the values that we have fought for, so that we lose the very things that hold us together.

The President’s vision is this – if we want to save humanity from the most destructive and catastrophic threat we face, we need to eliminate nuclear weapons so that they cannot fall into the hands of terrorists.

The United States has a special responsibility to lead this effort as the nation with the largest nuclear arsenal and as the only nation that has ever used a nuclear weapon in a conflict.  We cannot remove this threat worldwide unless we take the initiative.

Nuclear Posture Review

The first concrete step in removing nuclear weapons is reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our own security strategy.  This doesn’t mean immediately dismantling all of our nuclear weapons.  Rather, because so much of our security strategy for protecting our allies has been designed with a nuclear capability, we need to reduce our nuclear weapon systems in a manner that sustains a safe and effective nuclear deterrent for the United States and our allies.  At the same time we need to demonstrate leadership in both being transparent about our nuclear posture and begin reducing our nuclear arsenal.  One month ago we did both by issuing an updated, and for the first time, unclassified, Nuclear Posture Review.  I won’t go into the all the details of the Review but I do want to highlight a few key points.

First, the Review defines specific steps to strengthen enforcement of the global non-proliferation regime, and accelerate the securing of nuclear materials worldwide.  It also renews the U.S. commitment to hold accountable any actor, state or otherwise, that would support or facilitate nuclear terrorism.

Second, the U.S. updated our declaratory policy to reduce the number of circumstances in which nuclear weapons might be used, in light of our ability to deter certain kinds of catastrophic threats in other ways.  In short, the United States will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

Now let me be clear about one question this raises.  Some people have asked whether this Negative Security Assurance is a way of sending a message to nations that are non-parties or a nation like North Korea that has attempted to withdraw from the Non-proliferation Treaty. The answer is that this is not a threat against any particular state not covered by the assurance.  What it is, is a clear message to induce countries to swear off nuclear weapons, and live up to the tenets of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  States that fail to comply will find themselves isolated as pariahs in the community of nations.  In short, the point is that in a world where security is measured by whether you have more friends than enemies, the pursuit of nuclear weapons will not make them more secure.

Third, the updated Nuclear Posture Review commits the U.S. to walk the walk and move toward a strategy that does not depend on nuclear weapons.  To that end it declares that the United States will not develop new nuclear warheads.  Nor will we pursue new military missions for nuclear weapons.  And finally, we will not conduct nuclear testing, and we will seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

New START Treaty

Pic: Sylvia Deutch

Now the second major step has been the New Start Treaty.  Just two days after the release of the Posture Review, and nearly a year to the day after President Obama’s first Prague speech, he returned to the Czech capital to sign the historic New START Treaty with President Medvedev of Russia.  This is the most significant new arms control treaty in a quarter century, and will dramatically reduce the strategic nuclear forces of the two great nuclear powers – the U.S. and Russia.  Again, I won’t go into all the details, but most significantly, the treaty includes a roughly 30% reduction in deployed strategic warheads.  When this treaty is fully implemented, it will mean these nations have the lowest number of deployed nuclear warheads since the 1950s.  The Treaty also satisfies the Reagan motto of “trust but verify.”  It contains a strong and effective verification regime that includes on-site inspection of both deployed and non-deployed systems.  It was written in a way that ensures real transparency and predictability between our two countries.

The New START Treaty’s implications extend well beyond Washington and Moscow. The United States and Russia control more than 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal.  By reducing our stockpiles, the New START sets the stage for engaging other powers to follow suit.

Nuclear Security Summit

Now the third part of the nuclear non-proliferation effort has been the nuclear security summit.  In his Prague Speech last year, President Obama had promised to host this global nuclear security summit to establish concrete steps to enforce the non-proliferation regime.  Two weeks ago, as promised, an unprecedented 47 world leaders gathered in Washington to address the threat of nuclear terrorism.  Not since the end of the World War in 1945 had so many heads of state and government convened in the United States for a single effort.

As the President explained, while the United States has a responsibility to lead on reducing the nuclear threat, we cannot prevent it alone.  The Nuclear Security Summit highlighted the global threat posed by nuclear terrorism, and the need to work together to secure nuclear material and prevent nuclear trafficking and terrorism.

The Forty-seven world leaders, including Australia’s delegation, came together to commit to nuclear security at the highest levels.  In the Summit Communiqué, the leaders endorsed President Obama’s call to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years.  The leaders also renewed their commitment through concrete measures to ensure that nuclear materials under their control don’t fall into the hands of terrorists.  The Summit reinforced the principle that all states are responsible for ensuring the best security of their materials, and set up mechanisms for sharing best practices in this regard.

Finally, it promoted the international treaties that address nuclear security, and featured specific national commitments – such as Ukraine‘s pledge to eliminate its uranium stockpile.

Non-Proliferation Review Conference

Finally the Fourth major step is underway.  As we speak, the UN Non-Proliferation Review Conference is going on right now in New York.  Nearly 190 nations have gathered at the UN in New York to review how well we have implemented the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The United States will push for all parties to strengthen the three pillars of the agreement: non-proliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  In addition, we will be pressing to discourage abuse of the treaty withdrawal provision and ensure that there is a strong focus on compliance.  The Treaty Review Conference is not an end in itself; rather it is another essential milestone in an on-going process that will continue with work in places such as the IAEA and the Conference on Disarmament.

In short, in the past year we have reengaged the world on one of the most important issues to our common humanity.  The Non-Proliferation Review Conference is not just about one country; it is about every Country.

Iran and Israel

Now at the beginning, I mentioned that nuclear non-proliferation is important to every nation but particularly to Israel.   I said that because when we think about risks, we can’t ignore the risk that a nuclear Iran poses to the world and especially to Israel.    Iran’s persistent and flagrant violation of the non-proliferation treaty, its secret enrichment program, its support for terrorism, and its President’s specific threats to Israel are a significant piece of why the nations of the world need to come together and condemn and stop nuclear proliferation.

The United States had actively engaged with allies such as Australia to increase the costs of Iran’s failure to live up to its international obligations.  But we have also engaged with other non-allied powers including China and Russia to bring Iran into line.  To date we have obtained a UN Security Council sanctions resolution.  But since those sanctions have not yet caused Iran to change its posture, we are continuing to ratchet up the consequences of Iran’s actions.

As the President has stated, we recognize the difference between the people of Iran and the leadership of that Country.  The people of Iran were out in droves after the election protesting and they were ruthlessly attacked, beaten, and in some cases killed by their own government.  They understand the reckless course that their leaders are taking and they want it stopped too.  So our challenge is in part to design sanctions in a way that inflicts the punishment where it belongs – on the architects and beneficiaries of the nuclear program and not the public.  If Iran’s leadership continues to violate their international obligations, they will only find themselves more isolated not only from the world community but also from their own people.  We hope Iran’s leaders will take the necessary steps to restore the international community’s confidence in the solely peaceful nature of their nuclear program.  But if they don’t, there will be real consequences.  I’ll repeat what President Obama has stated.  The United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.  In doing so, we will forestall a regional arms race and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups.

Of course, one the countries that would be most threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran is Israel.  Make no mistake about America’s commitment to protect Israel.  The forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States.  That is one reason why the relationship between the United States and Israel has never been more important.  As Secretary Clinton stated, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever.  When we strengthen Israel’s security, we strengthen our own security, we strengthen Australia’s security, and we strengthen the world’s security.

We still have much work to do.  And the road will not be easy.  But working together, we can make this a world free of fear from nuclear weapons, and pass on to our children and grandchildren a safer, more peaceful world.”

CJF founder and director Manny Waks commented: “We are delighted to have heard Ambassador Bleich speak on a range of issues of interest and concern to the Jewish community. We greatly appreciated the opportunity to hear the Ambassador share interesting insights into the Obama Administration’s policies. It is indeed a great honour for the CJF to have been selected by the US Ambassador for his first public address before an Australian Jewish group.”

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