Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Threats to International Peace and Security

Ambassador Jonathan Cohen
Acting Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
August 22, 2019


Thank you, Madam President. And I want to thank Under Secretary-General Nakamitsu for her briefing today.

Colleagues, we should be crystal clear about why we are here today. The United States entered into the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. But more than a decade ago, the Russian Federation decided it would break its treaty obligations and pursue a missile system with a range expressly prohibited by the INF Treaty. Over the last several years, Russia developed, produced, flight tested, and has now fielded multiple battalions of its INF-noncompliant 9M729 missile system.

In response, earlier this month and after six years of U.S. diplomacy to return Russia to compliance and preserve the Treaty, our Secretary of State affirmed the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty. As the Secretary said in his statement, “the United States will not remain a party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia.” The other NATO Allies also concluded that Russia had materially breached the INF Treaty, let me repeat, Russia had materially breached the INF Treaty and the NATO Allies fully supported the U.S. withdrawal due to Russia’s intransigence.

We are here today because the Russian Federation preferred a world in which the United States continued to fulfill its INF Treaty obligations, while the Russian Federation did not.

Indeed, the Russian Federation and China would still like a world where the United States exercises self-restraint while they continue their arms buildups unabated and unabashed. Russia now threatens that it will reciprocate if the United States positions intermediate-range missiles in Europe. But Russia has already fielded such missiles in Europe, while the INF Treaty was still in effect.

What we and our NATO Allies know is that Russia has produced and fielded multiple battalions of 9M729 ground-launched cruise missiles throughout Russia, in violation of the now terminated INF Treaty, including in western Russia, with the ability to strike critical European targets. Likewise, China threatens to target U.S. allies that host any U.S. missiles, even though China has already deployed thousands of intermediate-range missiles with the purpose of holding the United States and our allies and partners at risk.

Madame President, now that the INF Treaty no longer exists due to the Russian Federation, the United States is taking the necessary steps to address the threats posed by intermediate-range missile forces being deployed in ever larger numbers by Russia and China, which the INF Treaty failed to hinder. Today, there are no U.S. ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles. Zero. In contrast, Russia has developed and deployed multiple battalions of such missiles. China possesses approximately 2,000 missiles, that would have been prohibited under the INF Treaty had China been a party to it.

Furthermore, U.S. flight tests to develop a ground-launched, conventional capability are neither provocative nor destabilizing. They are a prudent response to ensuring the United States has the capabilities to defend our interests in the post-INF Treaty world that Russia created, and are the culmination of treaty-compliant U.S. research and development efforts dating back to December 2017. These efforts were never a secret, and again, they were not prohibited by the Treaty.

We have heard a narrative today that the United States had itself been in violation of the INF Treaty because of our recent flight test which used the MK-41 launcher that is also found in our Aegis Shore Missile Defense System. This is categorically false. The Aegis Shore system does not have an offensive ground-launched ballistic or cruise missile capability. Although it utilizes some of the same structural components as the sea-based MK-41 Vertical Launch System installed on ships, the Aegis Ashore vertical launching system is NOT the same launcher as the sea-based MK-41 Vertical Launch System. The Aegis Ashore system did not violate our INF Treaty obligations.

A more relevant discussion today about threats to international peace and security would be focused on the fact that while the United States worked to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, the Russian Federation and China did not follow the U.S. lead in this regard. To the contrary, they have moved in the opposite direction by developing and fielding new nuclear and missile capabilities over the last decade.

The Russian Federation is upgrading and diversifying its nuclear weapons capabilities, and its total nuclear stockpile is likely to grow significantly over the next decade. This growth will be driven primarily by a projected increase in the Russian Federation’s nonstrategic nuclear weapons.

The INF Treaty-violating 9M729 missile is only one in a series of ground-, sea-, and air-based Russian systems being modernized and developed with greater accuracy, longer ranges, and lower nuclear yields in order to enable Russian nuclear strategy and doctrine, including limited first use of nuclear weapons. We believe the Russian Federation has up to 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads of various types. In comparison, the United States currently has a single nonstrategic nuclear weapon (the B-61 gravity bomb).

The Russian Federation is also pursuing novel strategic nuclear weapons. These include a nuclear-armed and powered underwater drone designed to destroy adversary coastal cities and ports in a radioactive tidal wave; a nuclear-armed and powered, ground-launched, intercontinental-range cruise missile; and a nuclear-armed, air-launched ballistic missile.

Madame President, perhaps a better use of this Council’s time would be to ask the Russian Federation to address the threats it poses to international peace and security. How many 9M729 missiles has it produced, and where are they? What exactly happened on August 8th in Russia What caused the explosion, what system was it, and what purpose does that system serve?

Meanwhile, China continues to rapidly increase the size of its nuclear stockpile through a rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal. This includes new delivery systems as China works to establish a new nuclear triad. China is also examining how hypersonic systems, air-launched ballistic missiles, and low-yield nuclear weapons fit into its expanding nuclear arsenal.

These developments by the Russian Federation and China – coupled with their aggressive and coercive behaviors – are key drivers behind a deteriorating security environment. The United States will not and cannot ignore this reality. We will not stand idle. We will take the necessary steps to ensure our security and that of our allies and partners. And that includes testing and developing systems to respond to the challenges we face, as well as being prepared to engage in what our President has described as a new era of arms control.

The United States remains open to effective and verifiable arms control. Contrary to our Russian colleagues’ outrageous assertions, we have made clear our interest in serious arms control that includes the Russian Federation and China and it goes beyond treaties focused on limited types of nuclear weapons or missile ranges. We think this would be a more effective approach to addressing threats to international peace and security.
I thank you, Madam President.