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Good day, everyone, and welcome to the first “virtual” plenary of the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.  We appreciate you joining us in this new format, as we all continue to explore how to use electronic interconnection in place (for now) of our more traditional in-person meetings.  The medium of our engagement has changed, thanks to the global pandemic, but the important purposes of this group have not — so it’s a special pleasure to have everyone logged in and participating all the same.

If someone were to visit the Global Partnership (GP) website, they’d see a good deal of information about the GP.  Such a visitor would learn, for instance, that the GP was established in 2002 at the G8 Summit in Canada, about the guidelines to which its members subscribe in their cooperative programming efforts, and about the four priorities that guide our work together: (1) strengthening nuclear and radiological security; (2) mitigating biological threats; (3) chemical weapons destruction and security; and (4) supporting implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540, which requires all countries to adopt measures to prevent non-state actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

All that information is accurate, of course, and we are proud of our now long-established history of collaborative work on such important tasks.  Less obvious to the casual website visitor, however — but, of course, well known to you — is all of the energy, dedication, and ongoing hard work that it takes to accomplish this vital mission together.  These aren’t just words, for through its coordinated programming efforts, the GP has done critical work over the better part of two decades in concretely changing “facts on the ground” in ways that have made all humanity safer and more secure in the face of WMD threats.

As we kick off our first “virtual” plenary, I want to draw attention to — and to applaud — the highly practical, mission-focused work of the Partnership.  On behalf of the United States government, let me express my delight at how this group has continued to move forward with its vital projects despite the enormous challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

If anything, the GP’s work is today more crucial than ever.  Its other three priorities have become no less important, but the current pandemic highlights, as perhaps nothing else could, the critical nature of the Partnership’s work in mitigating biological threats.  This focus on mitigating biological threats is important in its own right, of course, but the pandemic makes it more acute in at least two respects.

First, it is clear that the world was not as prepared as it needed to be for the current virus outbreak, which means we need to do what we can in our capacity-building to ensure that humanity is better prepared for any future pandemic — for sooner or later, there will most assuredly be one.  Preventing bioterrorism and building robust biological incident response capacity should thus clearly be a major focus of our work together, even as we also consider new threats on the horizon — such as the WMD-applicability of emerging biotechnologies, and technology convergence.

Second, the coronavirus crisis teaches us the importance of doing more to ensure that all the various efforts we undertake in such things as nuclear and radiological security and chemical weapons destruction and security can be maintained despite the challenges presented by the current pandemic and by any future outbreak.  The human suffering from this pandemic is bad enough on its own; we need to ensure that disease will not undo other vital progress that has been or is being made in WMD-related security and prevention.  In the United States — such as in my own Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation at the Department of State — we are working to readjust programming priorities and resources with exactly this task in mind, and I encourage the rest of you to think through such challenges as well.

For example, ISN has aggressively sought to embolden security efforts aimed at the safe transit of people and conveyances across international borders during a pandemic.  Such efforts include training front line border security personnel on donning and doffing protective garments, and related hygiene procedures, as well as the provision — and in some cases supporting partners’ in-country production — of personal protective equipment.  An elemental part of virus control is border control, and this is clearly evident as countries determine when and how to re-open their borders and economies.

So that’s why this “virtual” plenary — held as it is in a time of pandemic crisis — is especially important, and why I’m so glad you’re all on this circuit.

The United States remains steadfast in our support for the Global Partnership, and we reaffirm this commitment as the 2020 President of the Global Partnership Working Group.  Under our Presidency, we will do our utmost to bring the GP even closer to its original purpose of addressing WMD threats around the world through the coordination of donor activities, funding, and contributions.

All of you, and your governments, have important roles to play in this great mission.  The magnitude of the challenges today far exceeds the ability of a mere handful of countries to address them; we thus need to be better at identifying effective ways of contributing, adapting to virus-related operational challenges, doing a better job at donor-project “match-making,” and in general bringing more resources to bear — not only large monetary contributions (which, after all, not everyone is in a position to make), but also smaller amounts of assistance, as well as “in-kind” contributions.  Everything will help, everyone can help, and everyone should pitch in to uphold our most basic goal of working closely together and pooling resources to create more meaningful outcomes.

Today’s challenges force us to be even more thoughtful in prioritizing our work on the basis of global threats and to broaden and deepen our actions to improve safety and security across the WMD spectrum.  I’ve mentioned the crucial lessons the current pandemic should teach us all, for example, about the importance of mitigating biological threats, and these lessons should be reflected in GP programming.

But we also cannot forget that the norm against chemical weapons use has been gravely undermined by their use not just by terrorists such as ISIS, but even by nation-states themselves over the last few years — specifically, by North Korea in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, and by Syria and the Russian Federation in violation of their Chemical Weapons Convention obligations.  Looking forward, we must also take action to prevent fentanyls and other central nervous system-acting chemicals from being legitimized as weapons through their use in aerosol form, ostensibly for “law enforcement.”  There may be things we can do in our programming work to help reduce such threats.

There is also growing reason to be concerned by the threat from terrorists who may be seeking radiological weapons — so we should all continue taking steps to ensure the security of our own radiological sources, prevent trafficking, and help others take such actions wherever we can.  In addition, we must continue the Partnership’s work complementing the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in nuclear and radiological security, preserve momentum on the priorities set by the IAEA International Conference on Nuclear Security last February, and support implementation and universalization of the Amended Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials in the run up to its 2021 Review Conference.  The IAEA has also proven its value in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, helping member states by providing testing kits that use nuclear-derived diagnostic techniques.  Several of us have contributed to those efforts, demonstrating the importance of using extraordinary methods in response to global crisis.

As co-chair of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, moreover, the United States calls upon Global Partnership countries both to continue to support its vital work, as well as to promote full implementation of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

So there is much to do.

But, indeed, the Global Partnership is coming together to address such threats.  Despite the difficulties this pandemic has presented, all four GP sub-working groups have already successfully conducted intersessional meetings, with more still to come.  It is even possible that as we get better and better at virtual interaction like this, GP elements may even be able to interact with each other more frequently — and perhaps thus work together more effectively — than before.

So on behalf of my government, let me express our appreciation and gratitude to the redoubtable sub-working group co-chairs who have done so much to advance this collaboration through their hard work: to Denmark for co-chairing the Biosecurity Sub-Working Group; to the Philippines for co-chairing the Chemical Security Sub-Working Group; to Sweden for co-chairing the Nuclear and Radiological Security Sub-Working Group; and to the United Kingdom for co-chairing the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Sub-Working Group.

(With regard to the CBRN Sub-Working Group, by the way, we are very pleased that the topic of strategic trade controls has returned to the forefront of the Global Partnership’s agenda.  This is very promising, for the development and implementation of effective strategic trade controls are emerging as particularly important components of the international security agenda.  There’s much to do here.)

In our meeting today, we can now look forward to hearing national statements and opening remarks from those of you with us today.  After that, we look forward to hearing from GP Members about how COVID-19 challenges are affecting their work, and what programming they have underway on coronavirus-related problems.

We should have no illusions that our work on these various issues will be anything but difficult.  But that work is also surpassingly important, for this Partnership remains a vital vehicle for coordinating our collective actions to make the world safer by keeping the most threatening of weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous of people.

Thank you for your time and dedication to this important task, and welcome to the “virtual” plenary!

U.S. Department of State

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