04/15/16 – Deputy Secretary Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall’s Remarks at the American Center in Seoul, Korea — As Prepared for Delivery

Seoul Embassy

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall
Deputy Secretary
American Center
Seoul, Korea
April 15, 2016

Thank you, Mark, for the introduction.

I am also honored today that my close colleague, and co-chair of the High Level Bilateral Commission, Ambassador Cho Tae-yul has joined us today. Our work together is so important to our two nations and it is very meaningful that you have made time to attend.

When I was a child in the 1960s, growing up across the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, I had a Korean pen pal.  She was another little girl named Hyo-Soon.  The letters we wrote to each other had to be translated, and I still have vivid memories of my excitement about receiving an air mail envelope and taking out the crinkly paper that the translators used to provide me with her words in English.  This correspondence made me feel from my earliest memories that I had a good friend in the Republic of Korea.

As an adult, I know that I, and the people of the United States, have millions of good friends here in Korea.

We thank you for your friendship, your partnership, and our strong alliance.

And I want to express my thanks and appreciation for the generous support that the government and the people of Korea extend to our service men and women.

Today, I would like to talk with you about how our close and cooperative partnership supports President Obama’s nuclear security agenda.

I’ve been working on the issue of nuclear security for most of my career.  I was fortunate to be present when President Obama presented his ambitious nuclear security agenda to a global audience for the first time.  In a speech in Prague, in April 2009, the President committed the United States to reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.  He said that we would work with our allies and partners to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime.  We would promote access to peaceful uses of civil nuclear energy, and work to improve the safety and security of civilian nuclear facilities.  And we would aggressively work to prevent nuclear terrorism.

At the same time, he reiterated our commitment to maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent for the defense of the American people, and our allies around the world, for as long as nuclear weapons exist.

The President set forth the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons.  But he recognized that this is an enormous task, one that might not be completed during his administration, or his lifetime.  He also knew that the United States could not reduce global nuclear threats alone.  We needed the active participation, support, and partnership of the international community.

In this task, as in so many others, we are extremely fortunate to have Korea as our close ally.

From the beginning, you have been a leader in efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and improve global nuclear security, including by hosting the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit.  This reflects the fact that our alliance with Korea is a cornerstone of the peace, prosperity, and security of the region and the world.

Strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty

As I noted, in Prague President Obama spoke of the United States’ commitment to working toward a world without nuclear weapons.  The key to reaching that goal is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which entered into force 46 years ago.  We have worked at home and abroad to strengthen the treaty, encourage peaceful uses of nuclear technology, and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The basic compact at the center of the NPT is simple:  Countries with nuclear weapons, like the United States and Russia, will move toward disarmament.  Countries without nuclear weapons will not seek to acquire them.  And all countries in compliance with their treaty obligations should have access to peaceful nuclear technology.

I’ll address peaceful nuclear cooperation in a few minutes.  It’s the reason I am here in Korea, and I want to spend some time talking about that separately.

In his Prague speech, the President ambitiously called for a new arms control agreement with Russia.  One year after the Prague speech, the United States and Russia signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.  This was a significant accomplishment by the two countries that have the largest nuclear arsenals and Cold War legacy systems.  It reduces the number of deployed strategic warheads and delivery systems while providing for transparency and predictability between our countries.  And we are committed to further reductions.  We think of New START as the beginning of an ongoing process.

Global efforts to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty are also a long term process.

But we are already seeing some results.  The international response to rule breakers has been more unified in the past few years.  And efforts to strengthen organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency mean that inspections are more effective.

These efforts, along with very intense negotiations on the part of Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, our P5+1 partners, and Iran led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which we signed last year.  The resolve of the international community in demonstrating that failure to meet nuclear obligations has consequences, helped set the conditions for a deal that cuts off all pathways for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.

So we have made some very positive steps toward nonproliferation over the past seven years.  But there is still progress to be made, including here on the Korean Peninsula.

Two weeks ago, at the final Nuclear Security Summit of our Administration, held in Washington, DC, President Obama met with President Park and Japan’s Prime Minister Abe.  They discussed nuclear proliferation in the region and agreed that we must deepen trilateral cooperation to counter this threat and work toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula that offers opportunity, peace, and prosperity for all of its people, both North and South.  The international community has played an important role in North Korea as it did in Iran.  But we must all continue to enforce the UN Security Council measures passed in response to North Korea’s aggressive activity and nuclear tests.

The President has been clear all along that we bear no ill-will or hostility toward North Korea, and we welcome South Korean efforts toward peace.  As President Obama has said, a brighter future is possible for the people of North Korea, but only when provocations stop, human rights abuses cease, and nuclear obligations are met.


And this brings me to nuclear security, the next pillar of the Prague Agenda.

When the Soviet Union fell, it left behind thousands of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, nuclear material, and new nuclear nations, some which had no idea what they even had, much less how it should be secured.

We have done a lot to secure those materials in the intervening 25 years, working closely with other nations.  Nevertheless, nuclear materials still present enormous risks for the global community.  President Obama clearly stated here in Seoul four years ago that “we simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”

This is why we have expressed concern about plans here in the region to reprocess spent fuel, which has historically generated large stockpiles of plutonium.

In Prague, the President called the risk of nuclear terrorism the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.  As we have seen in recent weeks, particularly with regards to Brussels, even the thought that terrorists might try to get nuclear materials provokes fear and uncertainty.

The threat of nuclear terrorism means that continuing to improve nuclear security must be one of our highest priorities.

For six years, we have been making a concerted effort toward that end through the Nuclear Security Summit process.  These Summits have helped create an international network of leaders who are invested in working together to improve national security and reinforce the global security architecture.  As a result, more vulnerable nuclear materials are secure and more at-risk fissile materials have been taken off the global playing field, making it harder to commit acts of nuclear terrorism.

From hosting the second Summit in 2012, to leading efforts to make additional agreements, Korea has been a leader in the Nuclear Security Summit process.

Korea is part of the “troika” of Nuclear Security Summit hosts, together with the United States and the Netherlands.  Our three countries have led initiatives throughout the Summit process that have improved global nuclear security.

The Summit here in Seoul in 2012 led to the innovation of “gift baskets,” which are additional commitments by small groups of Summit participants.  Gift baskets have been instrumental in advancing action on narrower nuclear security themes, which led to more than 100 new commitments in 2012 alone.

For example, the United States, Korea, and the Netherlands worked together to develop an initiative that got nearly 40 countries to agree to make previously voluntary nuclear security measures legally binding.  These countries will also engage in nuclear security peer reviews, and ensure that the professionals responsible for nuclear security are demonstrably competent.

At the most recent summit, Korea led a gift basket in which 24 countries and two international organizations agreed to strengthen the international community’s ability to prepare for, counter, and respond to acts of nuclear and radiological terrorism.

As a group, Nuclear Security Summit participants have strengthened the international organizations, institutions, and multilateral legal instruments that make up the global security architecture making them more effective.

Thirty-six countries, a majority of Summit states, are implementing stronger security practices and building their capabilities.  More and more countries are adopting binding legal commitments to protect vulnerable materials and prevent terrorism.

For example, before the Summit process began, only 25 countries had adopted the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.  Last week, the IAEA announced that the Amendment will enter into force in May.  It makes security requirements for civilian nuclear materials legally binding, and improves international cooperation to locate and recover stolen or smuggled nuclear material.

Through the Nuclear Security Summit process, we have also worked together to remove all highly enriched uranium (HEU) from 14 countries and Taiwan.  In all, we have removed or confirmed the disposition of more than 3,800 kilograms of HEU and plutonium.  Including removals just announced at this year’s Summit, this is enough material for 150 nuclear weapons.

We have also pursued reductions in the use of HEU for civilian purposes around the world, including in research reactors.  Since 2009, more than 30 HEU-fueled civilian research reactors and medical isotope facilities in 18 different countries have been shut down or converted to low enriched uranium fuel use.  Korea is contributing toward future conversions by working to develop new high-density LEU fuels.

We have worked with 36 partner countries to install radiation detection equipment at more than 300 airports, border crossings, and ports.

And, we have worked with more than 80 countries to secure thousands of civilian radioactive sources around the world.

Two weeks ago, the leaders of 52 nations gathered in Washington to discuss actions that they can take to further reduce the risks that terrorists may obtain fissile materials.  They also talked about how we can sustain the momentum we gained from these Summits in the future.

The Nuclear Security Summit process emphasizes just how much we can accomplish, and how much our countries’ individual efforts are magnified, through international cooperation.

For example, the Department of Energy has longstanding ties to organizations like the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control (KINAC) and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI).  Together, we work to promote global nonproliferation and nuclear security norms.  For years, we have cooperated to develop, test, and deploy the advanced nuclear safeguards technologies that improve our nuclear verification capabilities.

We also work with the Korean nuclear security Center of Excellence that President Lee announced at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit.  Since its establishment, the International Nuclear Security Academy (INSA) has been a strong partner.  DOE works with INSA to develop courses on safeguards, physical protection, and export controls that are used to train national and regional nuclear specialists.  We also work on capacity building and joint outreach to third countries.

And the Department of Energy partners with the Korean Customs Service (KCS) to combat maritime nuclear smuggling.  The radiation detection systems operated by KCS at the port of Busan are essential to screening cargo containers passing through one of Asia’s largest seaports.

All of this brings me to the commitment President Obama reiterated to ensuring a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent so long as nuclear weapons exist.  The U.S. Department of Energy plays an active part in working to meet this goal as well.


At DOE, we have the solemn responsibility to ensure that our nuclear stockpile can, and will, meet what we call the always-never challenge:  Our weapons should always work if the American President orders their use, but they should never work under any other circumstance, including theft or an accident.

As long as there are nuclear weapons, the United States will maintain our nuclear deterrent for our defense, and for the defense of our partners and allies.

As Deputy Secretary of Energy, I am proud to help lead the people whose skills and analysis make it possible to certify to the President that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is safe, secure, reliable and effective.  And we do this without nuclear explosive testing.

That last part is really important.

The United States has observed a unilateral moratorium on nuclear explosive testing since 1992.  Our weapons systems were not designed to last indefinitely.  The ban on testing, however, meant that we needed to take measures to extend their useful lifespans so that we could continue to provide an effective nuclear deterrent. In recognition of that fact, President Bill Clinton announced a Stockpile Stewardship program in 1995.

For more than 20 years, this program has used the cutting edge science and engineering pioneered in our Department of Energy National Laboratories.  And today we have greater confidence in our deterrent because we know, based on the pioneering work of our scientists and engineers, so much more about how it works.

Also as a result of President Obama’s nuclear agenda, we’ve spent a lot of time assessing our ability to deliver on our promises.  In 2010, we reviewed our nuclear posture to ensure that we could address current security risks, and also maintain the full range of military capabilities we would need to meet any threat to us or to our allies.

One way we meet this challenge is through the Life Extension Programs and Alterations that lay the foundation for our future nuclear deterrent.  These programs help us refurbish, reuse, and replace components so that we can extend the life of the weapons in our arsenal, and ensure that we retain an effective deterrent.

Right now, we are working on extending the lifespan of the B61, which goes on planes like our B-2s, B-52s, and F-15s.  This weapon is a cornerstone of our extended deterrence commitment to our Asia-Pacific and NATO allies.  The upgrade will replace outdated technology and incorporates improved safety and security features.  The B61 Life Extension Plan will also allow us to retire the B-83, the only remaining megaton-class weapon in the arsenal.

In short, the Life Extension Programs help us ensure that there is no gap between what we promise our allies and what we can deliver.

As we reassessed our nuclear posture, we also thought about the role of our conventional forces.  Our analysis found that many threats to U.S. national security, and that of our allies and partners, can be met by the extraordinary capabilities of our armed forces.

Some of our most powerful ships, planes, and submarines visit Korea regularly.  Last month, for example, ships from the John C. Stennis Strike Group made port visits in several Korean cities before participating in Operations Foal Eagle and Key Resolve – two of our annual bilateral exercises.

Last week, U.S. and Korean pilots trained together as part of Buddy Wing, an exercise we hold several times a year that helps us learn to plan, work, and fight together seamlessly.

The use of our conventional forces expands our options in a crisis situation.  As the only country to have used a nuclear weapon in war, we know the weight and consequence of having to make such a decision.

The United States’ commitment to the safety and security of our allies remains ironclad.

As long as nuclear weapons exist in the world, we’re determined to maintain our readiness, and our nuclear Triad, to respond to threats against the U.S. and our allies.

I think it’s worth highlighting that our strong commitment to extended deterrence has been fundamental to our nonproliferation policies for decades.  I reiterated this fact last year in my testimony to the House of Representatives:  If the United States wants to meet our, and our allies’ and partners’, nonproliferation goals, we must demonstrate that extended deterrence is real and that they do not need to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs.

And we know that some countries that might have developed their own nuclear arsenals have opted not to do so because of the rock solid assurances and capabilities of the United States.  In some cases, extended deterrence, and the peace of mind it provides, has prevented regional arms races and further destabilization and has decreased tensions.

As we think about our nuclear arsenal, it’s good to remember the other side of the coin:  That same tremendous power can be used to fuel our nations’ economies and advance our clean energy agenda to combat climate change – another major challenge of our times.


As President Obama said during his remarks at Hankuk University before the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, Korea is a leader in nuclear energy that “has shown the progress and prosperity that can be achieved when nations embrace peaceful nuclear energy.”

Korea is an advanced technology partner, and we already work together on projects such as developing next-generation nuclear reactors, small modular reactors, and improving nuclear safety.

In the United States, nuclear energy is a part of our comprehensive “all of the above” energy strategy.  It is becoming an even more important, low carbon part of our energy mix.  And it will help us in our fight against climate change.

Access to safe and advanced nuclear technologies can also provide a clean energy solution to help developing countries grow.  I want to stress, however, that we have a moral obligation to ensure that these technologies go only to those countries where there are effective safety and security regimes, and effective systems in place.  Only through this commitment to safety and security will we be able to take full advantage of the vital no-carbon technologies that civil nuclear power provides.

There is so much that the U.S. and Korea can do together to improve our clean energy technologies and to improve energy capacity around the globe.  As I noted in the beginning, that is the principle reason I am here in Korea.

Last November, the U.S. and Korea brought into force our new peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement, often called a 123 Agreement.  This will deepen our partnership across a range of economic, energy, science, and technology arenas.  It will enhance our already strong trade relationship, and provide for increased dialogue at all levels.

Yesterday, I was welcomed by Foreign Minister Yun, and Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho and I were pleased to launch the High Level Bilateral Commission.  In our 123 Agreement, we decided to form the HLBC so that we can discuss a wide variety of topics of significant importance in a structured and ongoing process, including management of spent nuclear fuel, nuclear exports, fuel supplies, and nuclear security.


We had excellent conversations yesterday, and we have achieved a lot together.

Even though we have come a long way since the President spoke in Prague seven years ago this month, we still have work to do.  One thing I have learned throughout my career, going back as far as my days as a doctoral student at Oxford University, is that strong allies are there for each other in good times and in times of crisis.  Strong allies push each other to innovate in order to keep their economies on the cutting edge.  And strong allies motivate each other to maintain capabilities to meet shared challenges.

And that’s what the United States and the Republic of Korea are doing today – and will continue to do for generations to come.

Thank you.