Negotiating the New START Treaty, with Rose Gottemoeller

October 19, 2021

U.S. & Russian New START delegations (Rose Gottemoeller center in red jacket) on April 9, 2010 in Geneva, Switzerland. CREDIT: U.S. Mission Photo by Eric Bridiers (CC)

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs as part of our series Book Talks, and we are very pleased to have with us this evening the Honorable Rose Gottemoeller, who will be speaking with us about her new book Negotiating the New START Treaty.

Secretary Gottemoeller's last position in government service was as the deputy secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Before that, she had a long and distinguished career in the U.S. government as under secretary of state for arms control, deputy under secretary of energy for defense and nuclear nonproliferation, and service in other parts of the State and Energy departments, and also on the National Security Council as senior director for Russia and for Europe. Also, she is a practitioner-scholar, so on the one hand she has deep government experience but on the other hand she transmits this to students and helps to shape future policymakers and the future students of policy at Georgetown—my alma mater and co-host Tatiana Serafin's alma mater.

Georgetown unfortunately wasn't able to get you again because you are on the other coast at the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University. So, it is definitely Stanford's gain to have you as a practitioner-scholar-in-residence. We are very pleased to have you with us this evening. The question of nuclear weapons and arms control has remained extremely salient, not least because of some recent news headlines.

With that, let me turn it over to my co-host, Tatiana Serafin, to get our discussion started.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Thank you again, Rose, so much for joining us. I am so looking forward to our conversation. I want to show everybody the book, which is a great read, joyful because it has so much insider information. So much of politics we think of as stuff, process, the things that nobody wants to hear about, or it doesn't get read about, but you really brought it to life because of the people.

Today we lost one of the giants. General Colin Powell passed away. The news came through this morning here on the East Coast, and you tweeted out how important he was to you in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) process. So I want you to maybe tell us a little bit about that and him to start our discussion because certainly I feel like we need to acknowledge this giant who left us today.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Thank you so much, Tatiana, and thank you, Nick, for inviting me here today. It is indeed a somber day in many ways but also one where we can celebrate this great man, Colin Powell. 

I really appreciate the opportunity to tell a vignette that is in the book because he was so helpful, as I said on Twitter this morning, in the ratification process for the New START treaty. We knew we had some Republican votes, but we were trying to build up to ensure that we had the 67 total votes needed and to get above 67 if we could. At that time, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said: "We need to get Colin Powell onboard. If he will be willing to actively support the treaty, then that will be a big help across the country."

So I was asked by the White House to come to the White House one day for a private meeting with Colin Powell. First, he did meet with senior figures in the White House, including at that time Vice-President Biden, and then we sat in one of those little tiny rooms off the Situation Room. If you have been in the Sit Room in the White House, you know there are a couple of little cubbyholes there, and he grilled me for a good half an hour. He wanted to know every insider detail about the technical limitations of the treaty and how the verification regime was going to work. He really wanted to understand what the treaty was all about.

Like a true canny diplomat as well as military man, he held his cards pretty close to his chest, so I wasn't getting much body language as to how he was reacting to the briefing. But later on, Mike Mullen let us all know. He called Mike Mullen after the meeting was over and said that he was willing to support the New START treaty. So I wanted to just say a word in memoriam but also with really warm, warm regard for the role that he played on that occasion, so dignified, so knowledgeable, and so responsible in the way that he was thinking about the national security interests of the United States. I know we are all going to miss him.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Absolutely. You start it off with the ratification process, but certainly the book is all about the negotiation process as well as the ratification process, and all of the insider information of dealing with the Russians and also historically coming up with all that came before the treaty. You have all of the people, ideas, and information that you had to bring to the table.

I want for you to tell us how you got the idea for this book and what is your goal from this book. Share a little bit about the overview of how this all came together.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, the book has been rattling around in my head for a long time, Tatiana. The whole time I was working as the under secretary of state where I was responsible for all of the so-called "T" family, so in addition to the arms control issues, nonproliferation and the so-called "political-military affairs" issues. Those have to do with everything from landmine clearance to licensing of U.S. weapons sales. So it is a very broad agenda, and I didn't have time to stop and write, and then I went off to be deputy secretary-general of NATO for three years, and I didn't have time to write.

But it was in my head for a long time that I wanted to tell this story because I thought it was such a great example of how a really strong interagency team came together and worked on a very clear national security objective and then managed also to carry it across the finish line, getting the Senate's advice and consent to ratification. I always joked that there were actually two negotiations, one with the Senate and one with the Russians, and people say, "Well, who was more difficult to negotiate with?" I tell you, I think it's a toss-up, to be honest with you, but both were very difficult and had their own definite interests that they wanted to see served by this treaty.

That's what really got me started, but I also had some deep roots in my beginning experience. When I first went to work at RAND Corporation, I went to work for a fellow named Tom Wolfe, who was the senior Soviet military analyst at RAND at the time. He was writing a book on the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty—we call it SALT I; it's actually an executive agreement and not a treaty—called The SALT Experience, and he invited me to come and be his research assistant for that.

And, wow, he was such a great mentor, and he really pushed me, challenged me, and made me read dozens and dozens of Soviet military journals from one end to the other to help him get together the material he needed for the book. I just reflected on that through all the years of my career—40 years in Washington and in some foreign posts—and just thought, Wow, if I can inspire some young people as Tom inspired me to get involved in this field of arms control and nuclear policy, then it will for me be a really worthy goal. So that is something else that I wanted to do with the book. I wanted to write it for the next generation.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Absolutely, and we will talk about the next generation I think in a little bit, but I want to start out by asking, because one of the dates you mention in the book is that this new agreement goes out of force in 2026, and we have a big election in 2024. I am wondering how much of your chapter on lessons learned you think can be applied, and should people be talking about this now and getting together? Do you see it happening in this environment, where there is so much polarization?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: I think it is going to be important for the next treaty to take in mind a couple of things. One, of course, is the longstanding goal that the United States has had, to get direct limits on U.S. and Russian warheads, and the United States in particular is very concerned about the preponderance of warheads in the Russian arsenal that are for non-strategic nuclear delivery vehicles—sometimes people call them "tac nukes." So the United States sees a big superiority in those kinds of warheads on the Russian side and wants to get some direct constraints on them, and this is a bipartisan goal. Both Republicans and Democrats are very keen to see these kinds of constraints.

The other thing that people are worried about are the new so-called "exotic" weapons systems that President Putin rolled out in March of 2018, and getting some constraints on the air-launched ballistic missile, on the two nuclear-propelled sea-launched missiles I think will be important.

By the way, for your listeners, of the five systems that he listed on that occasion, two of them are already under the limits New START, the so-called Sarmat heavy intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and also the Avangard, which is their first strategic-range hypersonic glide vehicle that they are getting ready to deploy. They have already said that they will bring it under the New START Treaty. So we are looking at constraints on three exotic systems and very, very keen again on both sides of the aisle to get constraints on those systems. So, if we are able to negotiate a treaty that gets at these issues where there is real bipartisan concern, I think we can get a treaty that can be ratified in the Senate.

The other factor, of course, nowadays is China because China is building up their nuclear force structure and modernizing rapidly. Here I think we have to keep a sharp eye on what the Chinese are doing, but their numbers are still small compared to ours. There are a lot of people out there saying that the Chinese are going to rush, rush, rush, and get to our numbers really quickly. Well, let's see what happens, but I think the time needed to build up missiles and warheads will be time that is strategic warning for us. We can watch what the Chinese are doing and respond as we go on. In the meantime, we know that we and the Russians both have parity in strategic nuclear weapons systems, and we need to look for ways to constrain them as they are looking for ways to constrain us.

How to go about it? You asked, do we need to start now? Absolutely, because these new kinds of limits that we are looking to negotiate—limits on warheads, for example—are going to require very technical and difficult verification measures that we have never tried before. Warheads are the most sensitive objects that the United States and the Russian Federation possess, and we need to make sure that if we are monitoring limits on them that we are absolutely sure that sensitive warhead secrets are not falling into the hands of the Russians. That is going to be tough. So there are a lot of technical problems to work through. That's why I say absolutely we need to start now if we are to have a new treaty ready by 2026.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: That raises I think kind of a follow-on question, and it ties in also back to your purpose for writing the book, and that is that there are going to be some people listening to this who say: "Well, why should we even be negotiating about the types of weapons? We should just be trying to get rid of them?"—going back to President Obama's, "Let's try to shoot for nuclear zero."

Then there are others who are going to say: "What does it matter, limits or not? Let the Russians or the Chinese spend money on these things if they want. Why do we need to worry about arms control? It really is an idea that doesn't seem to make sense." And we see some of the polling data from the Left, which is nuclear disarmament, and then from the Right, which is arms control is a way to hobble the United States. What is the case for arms control really in the 21st century?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: I think many of us are concerned, Nick, that we are on the cusp of a new arms race, where we would be pouring enormous resources into nuclear weapons systems and new nuclear warheads at a time frankly when there are other technological revolutions afoot, and we need to stay on the leading edge of artificial intelligence developments, cybertechnology developments, quantum developments, and computing and sensing systems. We cannot afford to be left in the dust while we are pouring national treasure into nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons systems.

I think we are going to have to be very careful, judicious, and straightforward as to how we deploy these new technologies in military systems, but at the same time I always think of nuclear weapons systems as 70-year-old—yes, they are weapons of mass destruction. They extract a terrible price if they are ever used, heaven forbid, but at the same time they are not what is going to be what will be used on the battlefield going forward. Here we need to be paying attention to what's going on with the rest of this technological revolution that is afoot.

To get back to your question of why arms control, arms control is a way to control these systems in a predictable manner. That's the most important thing. We need to know what's going on inside the Russian strategic nuclear arsenal, and, oh, by the way, this is going to have to bring the Chinese into the game now too. I think there are ways to do that. We have been working with the Russians to slowly build down the Cold War buildup. We built over 32,000 warheads in the Cold War years and the Soviets by some accounts over 40,000 nuclear warheads. We have both been steadily dealing with, as I call it, that "ash and trash" of the Cold War.

But now the Chinese are starting to build up. I frankly think they will be foolish if they pursue that path because it is a waste of money, especially when we have these new technological developments that will guide and determine military capacity and capability in the future decades.

TATIANA SERAFIN: This is such an important topic, and we know that Biden is doing his Nuclear Posture Review. It started this summer, and there are going to be recommendations coming out. There were pledges he made during the campaign, but not really much has happened.

In addition, not much has happened in the press. We are not covering this issue. We are not covering the nuclear arms race. When we cover nukes, we talk about North Korea: "Oh, they shot a missile. Oh, my gosh!" I feel like there is a disconnect between what we talk about here at The Doorstep—what Main Street America is talking about—and what politicians are talking about or what this Nuclear Posture Review is hoping to do. Nobody is talking about it.

How do you think that we can bring—one of the ways is, of course, this talk. In what other ways can we raise this issue that there are these weapons out there? Maybe Millennials, Gen Z, you don't care about them, but maybe you should. Are there ways we can elevate this issue in the press and in the younger generations?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: That's a great point, Tatiana. They are definitely on the back burner compared to the Cold War years. Events of the Cold War, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis, scared the living daylights out of a lot of people, including the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States as well as other countries, and that I think drove a lot of government support but also national, public support for trying again to constrain at the negotiating table nuclear weapons, and we were pretty successful in that regard with countries—not only the USSR and the United States joining in, but for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), for example, which has a longstanding obligation associated with it to continue steady nuclear disarmament, and there the Chinese signed up early on as well as France and the United Kingdom. These five countries are considered official nuclear weapons states under the NPT, but they are all committed under the NPT to pursue a course of disarmament.

So there was a lot going on through that period from the early 1960s through the 1970s, and it has just continued to this time. During the 1980s there were still the threats of nuclear crisis out there that brought people out onto the street in Europe and the United States and really engaged a lot of public interest.

Once the Cold War was over, though, oh, boy, did they go onto the back burner, and young people—you are quite right—today don't really think about nuclear weapons very much. That's why I am glad you say, Nick, that many of your students are newly interested in these topics and are very, very enthusiastic about studying exactly what nuclear policy deterrence is and these important topics but also what can be done at the diplomatic table. I think this is really an important burst.

I am seeing it also here at Stanford. I hope we can say the same about Georgetown. I believe that is the case. Certainly I have been lecturing at The George Washington University on these topics. So there seems to be a new burst of interest. That is one thing, Tatiana. Get young people back into the classroom and offer the courses. Make sure they are out there so they can get interested.

The second thing is that it is very interesting if we can figure out ways—it seems kind of silly, but I'm thinking of that HBO series Chernobyl two years ago, and how much interest that evoked among the younger generation, and frankly I think it behooves the media companies to think perhaps they should be doing some series—not the spectacular kind of physicists in hot pants, putting tritium bottles up on the missile; there are some silly ones out there, James Bond kinds of movies—serious ones that look at stories like the Cuban Missile Crisis, what happened, and how dreadful it would have been if something had happened.

There was something like that actually in 1983, The Day After the film was called. It was shown on one of the main networks in the United States, and it really shook the public and got a lot of attention from younger people. I really think we need our media partners to be helping in this, and if we can get some attention like that—

I think there is a natural kind of link-up also with the climate change issues, where young people are very interested and involved, because even a couple of nukes detonating in the atmosphere are going to have a profound effect on climate and agriculture. I think we can also be thinking about how to link interest in climate change to this whole cause of addressing the nuclear threat.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think that's a critical point that you raised. In the 1970s and 1980s the existential threat that mobilized people was nuclear war and the worries about devastation, nuclear winter, and everything that would result from that, and today it's climate change, but there is this link between the two, which is human activity that, if it is left uncontrolled or unregulated, could lead to extinction-level types of events.

You talked a bit about cultivating new groups of people to take on these issues. Obviously, as you said, when the Cold War ended—and the statistics are all out there—the interest in studying these subjects collapsed, programs that were created ended, and yet, as you said, there seems to be this revival. But also, I believe earlier this year some members of the Biden arms control team and you met together, and there was a sense that there was a new generation but also that it's a new generation of people involved in these issues that perhaps looks more like America, that is a little less of a caste of high priests of nuclear power and a group that looks more like the United States' population makeup, certainly in terms of gender.

Do you have a sense, based on people who work with you and who were on your team when you were negotiating New START and who are now continuing, of a sense of continuity moving forward and your sense that—is this in good hands, at least from the U.S. side? And, from the Russian side, are you seeing good hands there of people, particularly people who are post-Cold War generation, rising to take up the challenge of negotiating durable arms control agreements?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Where the United States is concerned, I am really pleased to see many of the young talent who worked for me when I was both the assistant secretary and then the T under secretary going to work now in some of these very important positions. Bonnie Jenkins, who is the current under secretary of state for arms control and international security, was working in our International Security and Nonproliferation bureau. She was very important to helping President Obama put together his so-called Nuclear Security Summits during the Obama administration. So, yes, there are a number of people who were part of the, as we call it, "T family" when I was the under secretary and are now in positions of responsibility, and I am really pleased to see them shine. I do think all of these issues are in good hands.

The nuclear priesthood is still out there, however, and in the general push-and-pull of, again, the process Tatiana brought up, the Nuclear Posture Review I think it's important that we have the older voices represented as well. I do hope that we can push the envelope in this Nuclear Posture Review as President Biden was very keen during the campaign to see some attention given to nuclear declaratory policy and also to do a good and solid review of the so-called "program of record" for our nuclear modernization. I know those are activities that are going on now.

As I said, I think there is a push-and-pull there with the older priesthood perhaps on the more conservative side and some of the younger experts coming back into government and wanting to push the pace a little bit, but we will see where it all comes out. I think it's a good process, and it's healthy that the United States goes through this because, as you both know, in other places, in the Russian Federation, oftentimes nuclear policy and doctrine hide inside the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff, and it's not an interagency matter. In the United States this Nuclear Posture Review is an interagency process with everybody at the table and efforts made to get everybody's voices heard. Certainly the president then guides the process rather than waiting for the General Staff to present something to him, and I think that too is a healthy notion here in the United States. We'll see. We'll see where it goes.

One other thing I would like to say about diversity. If you've had a chance to read the book, you can tell that I was constantly teasing my counterpart Anatoly Antonov, who is now the Russian ambassador to the United States, but at that time he was my counterpart across the negotiating table, and he had some extremely capable women on his delegation, but they were always sitting in the back row. They never got to sit at the table. They never got to present. They never got to say anything. I kept teasing him about it and saying: "You know, you've got some really great lawyers back there. How about that young expert from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? Give them a speaking role. Come on."

Finally, at the very end of the negotiations, he did give his female lawyer an opportunity to speak on some legal matters that were being brought to a conclusion in the negotiations. Of course, she did a fantastic job. She was extremely well respected by the U.S. lawyers and by everyone on the U.S. team.

I think, Nick, in a way—well, I should ask you. I should ask Tatiana. When do you think there will be a female Russian minister of foreign affairs?

TATIANA SERAFIN: No comment.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Not for a while, I don't think.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Since you started on this topic—and then we will open the floor to questions, so please put your questions in the chat. 

But since we are talking about trying to have some sort of gender parity to inspire more women to go into science, engineering, and the nuclear field—we need to do that also.

So many times in the book—so many of these red flags are sexism, sexism. I kept saying that. How did you handle that? How did you get through it? You literally say there's a lot of misogyny on the Russian side.

I am not sure that has changed now. There is increasingly a cultural disconnect, and how do you deal with that cultural disconnect? You dealt with it beautifully, with much grace, and with humor, as you know, in the book, but I couldn't help but circle the times that I thought, My goodness, you could tell what you were up against in a room full of men who didn't know your capabilities. Can you talk about that because I think that's really important to certainly the students that I teach, the female students, and we would love to hear from such a strong leader.

Nick, you mentioned the first female NATO deputy security-general, so I do want to shine a light on that.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, I'll tell a vignette from NATO actually to illustrate the point I want to make, Tatiana, and that is when I first arrived at NATO I was an expert on the Soviet and Russian nuclear arsenal. They didn't know me from Adam. I was not a Europeanist. They didn't really know who I was.

So I got to NATO, and one of the crusty older military leaders on the NATO international staff—the international staff is the very senior people at headquarters; they have various missions of NATO members, but the international staff—I could see the first day I came into a meeting and they were talking about the NATO nuclear mission, and I started talking about extended deterrence, the U.S. readiness and willingness, and some of the history, and afterwards—he didn't admit it right away, but in a couple of weeks—he came up to me at a cocktail party and said, "Gee, for a woman, you know a lot about nuclear policy."

I have encountered that again and again and again, but that's what I advise younger women: You have to know your research agenda cold, you have to know the substantive issues cold, and if nuclear ICBMs is your thing, you are going to have to know everything there is to know about nuclear ICBMs, and eventually at least they shut up. They may still think they would rather have a man across the table, but there is a certain guarded respect I would say that develops over time.

When dealing with Russians too, there is a certain bemusement. I tell a little vignette in the book about when we went in January of 2010, again with Mike Mullen, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Moscow. He and his counterpart Makarov, then chief of the General Staff, were fundamentally important to getting the treaty across the finish line. They both negotiated together on some very, very tough issues.

They had a banquet at that lunch period that day we were in Moscow, and I got stuck at a table with a bunch of Russian generals, some of whom I knew from the delegation and some of whom I didn't really know, and they were quizzing me throughout the lunch in Russian to see how much I really did know about nuclear weapons. And I could tell—I say in the book, "After a while it became clear that we spoke the same language." I didn't mean Russian in this case, I meant strategic rocket forces language.

You have to be that capable. I know young women feel like it's an impossible heavy lift, but it's not, because you're smart. You can do it.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Speaking of Russian, you are a linguist. You lived in Russia, and that was a plus that helped you in the negotiating process I think, from reading the book. I want to say, though, that what concerns me is that languages are not being studied at universities like they used to be. Where does that leave us in terms of future negotiations if we don't have the proper translators?

You mentioned time and again the important role of translators in the book. So much depended on correct translation. That's the title of one of your  chapters. What can be done to elevate the language and the need for language study?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: This is from somebody who went to the School for Languages and Linguistics at Georgetown, which, as both Nikolas and Tatiana will recollect, was long ago disbanded and absorbed into the College of Arts and Sciences, much to my disgust actually. I was a "ling/lang" graduate, as we called it, of the Russian program in 1975.

That period was the Cold War period. Frankly, the federal government was paying for a lot of language teaching. I had Russian in my high school, out in Columbus, Ohio, and there were Russian language programs in high schools across the country. Even in some small farm schools in Ohio they had Russian language programs because everybody was gripped by the Sputnik launch back in the late 1950s, and: "Oh, the Soviets are getting ahead of us on everything. We have to study math. We have to study science. We have to study Russian so we can keep up with them." Of course, if you have that kind of federal government push, it can happen, but I don't see that happening again.

I don't worry so much about professional interpreters and translators because there is always a number of language enthusiasts out there. What I do applaud is people who are willing to study a foreign language as an adjunct to their major field of study, whether it is politics, international relations, Russian studies, or whatever, and really get a good working knowledge of the language because it's an incredible tool, I have found throughout my career,  an incredible tool for understanding. If you can read Russian military doctrine in the original Russian as well as in translation, you gain an extra understanding, an extra nuance, and I think that is so important.

Anatoly and I had this weird system, where we would just talk away in Russian and English, mixing everything up. If I didn't know the word in Russian, I would throw the English word in, and vice versa, and we got a lot of work done that way, but we couldn't meet one-on-one. You would never meet one-on-one. I mean, you do sometimes for a very private coffee or lunch or something to solve some particular problems, but in a regular meeting you need note takers there to keep the records, and the fact that both of us had bilingual people on our delegations who could serve as note takers was so important. So it can be a super-valuable tool during your career and can help you get a seat at a pretty interesting table if you work hard enough at it, but it is something that needs encouragement.

I agree. There is not nearly the enthusiasm nowadays, and I think that goes around the world. It's not only here in the United States. In Europe they speak a lot more languages naturally, but I think they too are suffering some problems in terms of certain languages not getting the attention.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I want to turn to some of the questions from our audience here. One of them comes from Tim Tyler, who asks about Putin's agenda. He was a player in your book. I wonder if you could tell the vignette of the speech that Putin gave—in Vladivostok, I believe it was—that really concerned you and then all of a sudden it went away. Can you tell that vignette for our audience?

And, to Tim's question, what is Putin's agenda today?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Okay. Very good.

Honestly, Tatiana, people have said in a kind of blank generalization, "Well, Medvedev never stood up to Putin," but this was one occasion on which then-President Medvedev I am convinced stood up to then-Prime Minister Putin.

We had been working very hard because we only had eight months to try to get the treaty finished, from April of 2009 to December of 2009. In November of 2009, we were both driving very hard, both sides making some critical steps forward and doing some critical concessions. It was an even back-and-forth.

The Russians had some work to do back in Moscow. They went back. They were going to have a critical National Security Council meeting, and the story I have heard told is that Putin, for the first time showing some interest in these negotiations, walks into the National Security Council meeting and simply draws lines through all the issues on this decision sheet and said, "No, no, no, no, no."

A couple of weeks later, he goes out to Vladivostok. By this time, we knew we wouldn't get it finished by December, so we had all gone home. I had gone back with my team to Washington, the Russians to Moscow, and he had gone out to the Far East to make a speech at a youth group in Vladivostok, and he made a speech in which he just trashed the negotiations and said: "They are totally inadequate. They are only focused on limiting strategic offensive forces. They are not limiting missile defense. This treaty is a waste of time. We should get out of the negotiations."

I have to say—it was nighttime already in Washington—I was just completely heartbroken. I said, "Well, that's it," and I asked my research assistant, by the way, a young woman studying for her Master's in those days at Georgetown who was a night owl. I said, "Well, Olga, please see what happens. The story has broken in Vladivostok and the Far Eastern Interfax and TASS outlets, it's going to march across the country. By the time we wake up in Moscow it will be all over everywhere."

I went to bed. I was just exhausted and heartbroken, and I didn't bother to call the White House at that point. I said, "I'll call them in the morning." It was late.

So I get up in the morning, and Olga sent me a report by email. She said it was weird. She said, "I checked Interfax and TASS Far East, and at some point in the night it said, 'This story has been taken down.'" So there was no big burst of stories across the country. There were no headlines in Moscow. The story was "disappeared."

I really think that is one time when President Medvedev stood up to Putin and said, "No, we are going to continue these negotiations and get them done." It was a very important moment in the negotiations. Luckily, as I said, we were able to quickly pull together this meeting between Mullen and Makarov that took place in January right after the Christmas and New Year's holidays, and that really forced some new momentum into the negotiations. So again, those two men played a really, really important role.

As to Tim's question, honestly Putin, since this treaty has been signed, has taken a very positive stance about it. Since the treaty has entered into force, he has called it repeatedly publicly the "gold standard" of nuclear treaties, and has supported it. He supported its extension with President Trump, and then he supported a full five-year extension with President Biden, so I know that he has been committed to the treaty and really committed to the efforts underway now in this strategic stability dialogue to get some new negotiations going.

But Tim asked, "Does Putin want to expand his nuclear forces so Russia can be perceived as a world power?"

I am not sure, Tim. I don't have any evidence that he actually wants to expand, like to break out of the limits of New START, but certainly having a modernized nuclear force, as we are seeing them deploying more and more modern missile systems and so forth, seems to be what his goal is, and, yes, it is an aspect of ensuring that Russia is perceived as a great power, a world power. So there is an aspect of that there.

That's why it's so important to keep the limits of the New START treaty or the next treaty in place so that again we escape from arms racing, we don't end up building up, building up, and building up  again as we did during the Cold War, and that's why we need to get China to the table as well.

TATIANA SERAFIN: We have China, Russia, and the United States, and Russia and the United States are probably 90 percent of the warheads—I have seen some figures—in the world, but there are other countries. We have some questions from our audience about these other countries.

Michelle Mattei asks about Iran and their nuclear program and how that is going to affect Israel.

Do we look to Iran? What other countries should we be looking at, and is North Korea really a threat to us? At one time, how much can we look at? How do we prioritize basically?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, there is the matter of the so-called "near-peer" competitors, and where nuclear weapons are concerned, Russia is as close as it gets to a peer competitor with the United States. Again, as I said earlier, there has been this longstanding position in both our countries that we would strive for parity, we would have an approximate balance. Our force structures aren't identical. We have some, as we call it, "freedom to mix." They tend to prefer to deploy ICBMs, and the United States prefers to deploy sea-launched ballistic missiles. It just has to do with our—Russia is a great land power, so of course it deploys more land-based systems, and the United States, as a naval power, more sea-based systems. So there is that difference there, but generally there is a parity between our two countries.

China is way lower at the moment, but we fear it may be driving toward that parity as well, so again we have to keep a sharp eye on that and watch what's going on.

Where North Korea is concerned, I honestly have been very perturbed in the last week as they have been rolling out—you probably saw the TV presentations in the last week—all the firepower now, missiles, and so forth that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is deploying. It's not big on numbers—they are not deploying a lot of missiles or a lot of warheads—but obviously they are striving for a kind of global stature with regard to their systems, so I do think it is high time to get back into negotiations with them, because they are also suffering.

Kim Jong-un himself has said very oddly—it is different now coming from the Pyongyang leader, but he has been honest to say that they are suffering—from a great deal of famine, crops failing, COVID-19, although they are not admitting much about COVID-19—a lot on the domestic front, so he could be looking for some relief. It could be a good moment. I think it is a good moment to go to the negotiating table with North Korea.

On Iran we have this effort afoot for the United States to rejoin the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). I do think it is important to get that agreement back on track again because the Iranians are doing everything they can to push that envelope and to maximize their own negotiating position by taking the level of enrichment of uranium right up to the borderline where we begin to be very concerned that they are enriching fissile material for a bomb program rather than for a nuclear power plant, which they always say that is what they're doing. So I do think it's going to be important to get them back to the table.

It's interesting when you ask about the Israelis and what their stance has been, of course, the previous prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was very, very opposed to the JCPOA. We will see how it goes with this new government under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He is calling, as the questioner Michelle asked, on the UN Security Council to take action against Iran, and I think the UN Security Council will be definitely willing to support this effort to get the JCPOA moving again. It remains to be seen then what attitude Israel will take to a reborn JCPOA. I think it is necessary in moving toward a rebirth of the JCPOA to also get some constraints in other places like the Iranian long-range missile program.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Are there any other areas of the world that we should be looking at in terms of countries that may be posturing? Looking at the map, you have India. You have France, the United Kingdom. What are some of their positions or partnerships with us?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: The South Asian states—Pakistan and India—are in a nuclear standoff. They have both tested nuclear weapons. They have also deployed some nuclear weapons systems, so we are concerned that they are in this very short warning of attack relationship that could be highly destabilizing.

I constantly worry about the standoff between India and Pakistan, but here we do have a more complex situation as well because India doesn't really pay that much attention to Pakistan. At least, they don't say that they pay attention Pakistan's nuclear capability. They say that they are deterring China, and they focus on, as they see it, the Chinese nuclear deterrent.

Pakistan, in turn, has a very decent working relationship with China. So I think as more action shifts from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, this could be a recipe for some potential nuclear crises in that area of the world, and it is something that we should all be paying more attention to and ensuring that we are pushing back against such a possibility.

Where the other two nuclear weapon states under the NPT are concerned—the United Kingdom and France—of course, they pursue a different approach. They don't try to become peer competitors of the Russian Federation. For a long time they have pursued what we call "assured second-strike deterrence." They put their missiles and their warheads at sea, where they can be hidden, and they say that they will assure retaliation, they will assure the ability to destroy Moscow if the Russians should ever attack them with nuclear weapons. So that's how they deter. It is, as they say, a "second-strike retaliatory capability," not a balance of terror or a balance of first-strike deterrent forces.

TATIANA SERAFIN: A real interesting question coming in from Cordel Green, who says: "I am in Jamaica, and from a distance some of these issues and institutions no longer seem 'fit for purpose.'  How much institutional reform do you believe is required?"

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, it's dependent on what you are thinking about, Cordel. If you're thinking about NATO, I actually see a huge amount of adaptability in NATO in the way they reacted to the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014 and built out their ability not only to immediately deter with conventional forces in the Baltic States and Poland but also then to reinforce. It is by no means a perfect story, and now the Russians have layered on other kinds of threats, like so-called "hybrid" threats or "gray zone" threats, so we're kind of in a neither peace nor war situation now where campaigns of misinformation, cyberattacks, and these types of activities go on every day in peacetime. So it's a different kind of relationship. But I do think that NATO is remarkably adaptable.

Does it need reform? Yes, and that's why I'm so glad that NATO has been working on the basis of this 2030 report that was done last year to put in place some reforms and also to look at developing a new strategic concept, which would be the kind of umbrella concept overlaying continuing reform efforts in NATO. NATO I feel pretty good about. 

Other organizations? I continue to worry about the United Nations and its systems, but then people say, "Well, why don't we just throw out the United Nations and forget about it?"

And you look at what the United Nations does that is efficient and good. Day after day after day I am impressed by what the UN World Food Programme is doing around the world in places where there is grave famine, and particularly now the way they have been reacting to the situation in Afghanistan. Even the most clumsy organization like the United Nations is doing a whole lot of good in various areas, so we need I think to continue to try to push the reform agenda without "throwing out the baby with the bathwater," to coin an old cliché.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I have a question. I don't know if the person who is asking wants me to name them, but they make a point that since joining the U.S. Navy they have never felt they were battle-ready and that there is "complacency morale." Do you see a sense of complacency, and maybe that is related to our question about nobody talks about nukes anymore?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: It's an interesting question I can see from the questioner. She asks another question down further. I will simply answer to say, yes, in fact in terms of our strategic nuclear force structure we deploy a lot of our strategic nuclear forces on strategic-strike submarines, the so-called "boomers," the Ohio class big submarines. I understand your question. Of course, for the surface fleets and for attack submarines we no longer deploy nuclear weapons on those platforms. So, it is the boomers, the strategic-strike submarines, where we deploy quite a bit of our nuclear deterrent.

I'm not quite sure what "complacency morale" means. Perhaps it gets to the point that, and oftentimes in the past there was this problem that when training and exercises were going on there was training, training, training up to the point of nuclear escalation, and then the exercise stopped and people didn't have to grapple with the difficult issues of command and control, of addressing nuclear damage, and trying to continue the fight. Despite having taken even perhaps a single nuclear strike, it will have a dire effect, as I said earlier, in so many ways. There is a good reason why there has been a taboo on the use of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

If that is what you are meaning, I do argue, and we started doing some more work in NATO—reflecting on that experience once again—to try to grapple with some of these issues. If, heaven forbid, the terrible day ever arose when nuclear weapons were put on high alert and people considered using them in some scenario, responding in our case to a nuclear strike with a nuclear weapon, then how would we go about it? What would be stressed most? I dare say our nuclear command and control would be very stressed in this day and age, particularly with the kind of cyberthreats against command and control across the board. So there are lots of interesting questions out there, and I do think that we cannot afford to be complacent about the nuclear environment in wartime.

But neither do we want to give the implication that somehow we believe in nuclear warfighting and think that that's a tool of U.S. policy. That's not our U.S. policy. Nuclear weapons are generally seen as responding only to a nuclear attack, and, although there are a few other niche areas where nuclear weapons may be used, they are not a general warfighting instrument.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Going back to China, there are a couple of questions that have come in, one after the other, about China, and talking about your negotiating savvy and skill. How would you negotiate with Xi Jinping if given an opportunity for bilateral or trilateral negotiations?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, I would not presume myself to negotiate with Xi Jinping, but I will tell you, I have had a small word of advice for some colleagues. Whether they are listening or not, I don't know.

I think it's frankly time for a Glassboro moment with the Chinese leadership. By "Glassboro moment" I am referring back to the meeting that took place in 1967 at Glassboro State College in Glassboro, New Jersey. Now it is called Rowan University. It has grown and come up in age. It was convenient to New York. The Politburo leadership was coming to New York. A grave Mideast crisis was going on at the same time, the 1967 war, and the Politburo leadership asked to meet with Lyndon Johnson at Glassboro to discuss some key issues.

Johnson and his colleagues, the cabinet members who came along with him, used that opportunity to sit down with the Politburo leadership and talk about what needed to be accomplished in terms of achieving some negotiated restraint and achieving a balance of strategic offense and strategic defensive forces. At the time, the Politburo—I have seen in the various reports; there are some great books out about the Glassboro summit—were really bemused and said, "How can it ever be bad to constrain strategic defenses?"

But if you are placing a lot of emphasis on strategic defense and your nuclear deterrent offensive forces cannot or are not capable of getting out from under that defense system, then essentially you end up in a destabilizing situation where a country like the USSR, for example, may be put in what we call a "use or lose" situation. It would launch early in order to prevent its systems from being destroyed by nuclear defenses.

All very arcane, all very difficult to grasp in a few sentences, but I think it really was an occasion on which the Politburo woke up and said: "Whoa. What's going on with nuclear policy, strategy, and doctrine in our own country?" Because, going back to my earlier point, it was very sharply constrained and controlled inside the General Staff and the Ministry of Defense and had not been propagated in the Russian interagency and even to the Soviet Politburo at the top of the Communist Party leadership.

I don't think Xi Jinping is in exactly the same situation because clearly he has articulated some views on strategic nuclear force posture recently, but I think it would be a valuable moment to really sit down at the highest level—not me, Mr. Biden, our president—with Xi Jinping with a very good cadre of senior figures on both sides to talk about these issues face-to-face.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Excellent. Nick, do you have anything, and our audience, any last burning questions as we come to the close of our discussion tonight?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think this has been a fascinating conversation.

In the time that we have left, we can perhaps just build on some of these points that you've raised. One in particular is trying to thread this balance as we move forward,  No one wants to encourage the idea that we're cavalier about the use of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, their deterrent capability rests on the sense of commitment that we would use those weapons in certain existential circumstances if pushed.

And tying together, you mentioned the cyber issue. We have had talk that, is a major cyberattack that would seek to disable the country equivalent to a nuclear strike, and/or have our conventional capabilities gotten so good that even if we were attacked with a single nuclear warhead strike we would not necessarily respond with nuclear weapons? A sense of perhaps are we coming to an era where that bright shining line between nuclear and non-nuclear may be blurring, and we might put nuclear options on the table to respond to non-nuclear, and we might put non-nuclear options on the table to respond to nuclear?

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: I think that's an excellent and a complex question. It gets down to this new Biden approach, which is so-called "integrated deterrence." It is sometimes also referred to as "multi-domain deterrence." It is something that—again, I will just cite the example of NATO—NATO has embraced by saying in various settings that, yes, now we are creating cyber as a domain of operations for the NATO alliance as a whole. Certainly the United States has done the same.

Then you say as part of your doctrine and policy: "Well, it doesn't mean that if we are attacked by a cyberattack"—particularly one that creates loss of life and serious injuries, essentially kinetic effects with a cyberweapon—"we may not respond with a cyberattack in return. We may respond in a different way, with a kinetic attack." Our president has reserved the right to respond with a nuclear strike to some forms of damage, as the Russians have done as well very clearly. Even sometimes talking about conventional weapons that can have strategic effect in the Russian doctrine they say could be sufficient to call down a nuclear retaliation.

All this is very complex, difficult, and scary frankly to consider, but I do think it behooves us to be very careful in considering nuclear doctrine going forward. That's why I have been very glad to see the Biden administration grappling with these issues of sole purpose, for example: Can we think about nuclear weapons as only to deter other nuclear weapons?

I don't know again where they are going to come out on this, but I think this is the moment to have these kinds of discussions and debates because there are so many new technologies coming into our militaries, and we have to think about how they all fit together.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Absolutely.

Any last questions from our chat? We have some great comments and greetings to you, Rose. I want to again mention that the book is called Negotiating the New START Treaty and to also congratulate you for willing the Douglas Dillon Book Award from the American Academy of Diplomacy, which you just found out last week, so this is not only your memoir, a policy outline, and advice to the next generation but also an award-winning book. So, congratulations.

I want to leave off with your favorite vignette from the book. One of mine was you cooking Thanksgiving dinner in Geneva in the tiny apartment. That was my favorite, but tell us your favorite vignette from the book as we close out our talk today.

ROSE GOTTEMOELLER: Well, Tatiana, as you put that teaser on the table, I will tell that story, both in its glory and its ignominy.

Yes, we had to stay in Geneva for Thanksgiving. The White House was being very tough, not letting anybody go home, and of course, we were driving hard to try to get the treaty finished.

I didn't cook that whole dinner. It was a potluck with everybody bringing something, but I ended up with these big Butterball turkeys. It was a huge turkey that we got from the local base, and I had a little tiny European oven, so I couldn't put the Butterball in the oven. Luckily I had a colleague living downstairs, Marcie Ries, who did have a big American oven, so I hauled this turkey downstairs and stuck it in her oven to cook.

It was a great party, and I think we were all happy to be together. A lot of people were missing home, of course, and I was missing home, but it made us realize that we had something to share, that we had a little bit of family vibe going on, even though it wasn't our real family, and we were missing our real family.

But the ignominy came when I was with everybody in the kitchen doing the dishes and my mobile phone rang, and it was the White House yelling at me: "Why are you not in the office? Why are you having Thanksgiving dinner?"

I thought, Well, it's only 4:00 there in Washington—it was 10 p.m. in Geneva—you're  probably heading off to Thanksgiving dinner right now. Of course, I didn't say that to the White House. I didn't dare say that to the White House.

But we got the treaty done, and that's the most important thing, and we got it across the finish line with the Senate, which was also vital.

Thank you both for this opportunity. A lot of fun and a great conversation. I really enjoyed it.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Thank you.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you very much.

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