Tomorrow the United States and Russia will sign the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) in Prague, reducing the number of strategic nuclear warheads in our arsenals to levels not seen since the first decade of the nuclear age. This verifiable reduction by the world's two largest nuclear powers reflects our commitment to the basic bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – all nations have the right to seek the peaceful use of nuclear energy, but they all also have the responsibility to prevent nuclear proliferation, and those that do possess these weapons must work towards disarmament.
This agreement is just one of several concrete steps the United States is taking to make good on President Obama's pledge to make America and the world safer by reducing the threat of nuclear weapons, proliferation and terrorism.
Yesterday the president announced the US government's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which provides a roadmap for reducing the role and numbers of our nuclear weapons while more effectively protecting the United States and our allies from today's most pressing threats.
Next week President Obama will host more than 40 leaders at a nuclear security summit for the purpose of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials as swiftly as possible to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists.
And along with our international partners, the United States is pursuing diplomatic efforts that create real consequences for states such as Iran and North Korea that defy the global non-proliferation regime.
These steps send clear messages about our priorities and our resolve. To our allies and partners, and all those who have long looked to the United States as an underwriter of regional and global security: our commitment to defend our interests and our allies has never been stronger. These steps will make us all safer and more secure.
To those who refuse to meet their international obligations and seek to intimidate their neighbours: the world is more united than ever before and will not accept your intransigence.
Tomorrow's agreement is a testament to our own determination to meet our obligations under the NPT and the special responsibilities that the United States and Russia bear as the two largest nuclear powers.
The New Start Treaty includes a 30% reduction in the number of strategic nuclear warheads the United States and Russia are permitted to deploy and a strong and effective verification regime, which will further stabilise the relationship between our two countries as well as reduce the risks of miscommunication or miscalculation.
And the treaty places no constraints on our missile defence plans – now or in the future.
President Obama's Nuclear Posture Review makes the principles behind this treaty – and our larger non-proliferation and arms control agenda – part of our national security strategy. Today nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism have replaced the cold-war-era danger of a large-scale nuclear attack as the most urgent threat to US and global security. The NPR outlines a new approach that will ensure that our defences and diplomacy are geared towards meeting these challenges effectively.
As part of this new approach, the United States pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapons state that is party to the NPT and in compliance with its nuclear non-proliferation obligations. The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners. There should be no doubt, however, that we will hold fully accountable any state, terrorist group or other non-state actor that supports or enables terrorist efforts to obtain or use weapons of mass destruction.
The NPR also emphasises close co-operation with our allies around the world, and maintains our firm commitment to mutual security. We will work with our partners to reinforce regional security architectures, such as missile defences, and other conventional military capabilities. The United States will continue to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent for ourselves and our allies so long as these weapons exist anywhere in the world.
Nuclear proliferation and terrorism are global challenges, and they demand a global response. That is why President Obama has invited leaders from around the world to Washington for a nuclear security summit and will seek commitments from all nations – especially those that enjoy the benefits of civilian nuclear power – to take steps to stop proliferation and secure vulnerable nuclear materials. If terrorists ever acquired these dangerous materials, the results would be too terrible to imagine.
All nations must recognise that the non-proliferation regime cannot survive if violators are allowed to act with impunity. That is why we are working to build international consensus for steps that will convince Iran's leaders to change course, including new UN security council sanctions that will further clarify their choice of upholding their obligations or facing increasing isolation and painful consequences. With respect to North Korea, we continue to send the message that simply returning to the negotiating table is not enough. Pyongyang must move towards complete and verifiable denuclearisation, through irreversible steps, if it wants a normalised, sanctions-free relationship with the United States.
All these steps, all our treaties, summits and sanctions, share the goal of increasing the security of the United States, our allies, and people everywhere.
Last April President Obama stood in Hradcany Square in Prague and challenged the world to pursue a future free of the nuclear dangers that have loomed over us all for more than a half century. This is the work of a lifetime, if not longer. But today, one year later, we are making real progress towards that goal.
by Hilary Clinton