"We are working toward a world without nuclear weapons," said Thomas Countryman, the assistant secretary of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN), in his public lecture Monday morning at the University Center.
After beginning his work with the state department in 1982, Countryman, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, rank of Minister-Counselor, has been assistant secretary for the ISN Bureau since September 2011. The ISN Bureau leads the U.S. effort to prevent the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, their related materials and their delivery systems.
In his lecture, Countryman addressed the state of nuclear weapons and technology in today's world and outlined the ISN Bureau's plans to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Though the total elimination of nuclear weapons would be ideal, Countryman admitted the feat will not be easy.
"Can I just quote Obama? This may not happen during my lifetime," Countryman said. "But it is a goal toward which we're working, and I think that's a realistic assessment. There's no shortcut to the elimination of nuclear weapons. However, thanks to the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons signed in 1968, we've reduced the U.S. and the Russian holdings by 80 percent over the past 40 years."
Countryman also mentioned the situation in Ukraine, asking the world to maintain perspective.
"On the biggest issues in this category of nonproliferation and disarmament, we're determined not to let the Ukraine issue affect our cooperation," Countryman said. "So on implementation of strategic WMD reductions, on 5+1 negotiations with Iran about its nuclear problem, on removal of chemical weapons from Syria, we're continuing to work with the Russians, we hope that they continue to see that those security challenges are bigger than this particular dispute."
Beyond the realm of nuclear weapons and WMD's, Countryman and the ISN Bureau hope to create an international nuclear energy policy.
"Our goal is a rational, nuclear energy policy, one that incorporates crucially the issues of nonproliferation, nuclear security and nuclear safety as well; the role of nuclear energy globally," Countryman said. "We have intense cooperation programs with a number of countries around the world. And in particular, a lot of that cooperation on a technical level is actually carried out by the UT Institute for Nuclear Security, by Oak Ridge National Labs, by other partners among the Department of Energy National Labs and Universities in the U.S."
In his closing statement, Countryman expressed the ISN Bureau's central policies.
"We are not building new nuclear weapons," Countryman said. "But, in very short description, what we are doing is stockpiling liability; maintaining assurance that those nuclear weapons that we still hold are safe and reliable."