World Affairs

Statement from the Aspen Ministers Forum

February 10, 2020  • Aspen Ministers Forum

Former foreign ministers from around the world call for a renewed focus on the growing global nuclear risk and for the extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The statement reflects a consensus formed during the 25th Aspen Ministers Forum in Vienna, Austria in November 2019. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Igor Ivanov, former Russian foreign minister, also wrote a call for action in the New York Times.

The world survived the nuclear dangers of the Cold War through a combination of skilled diplomacy, political leadership, and good fortune. The fall of the Berlin Wall did not eliminate those dangers, but the years that followed saw continued progress on arms control, a significant reduction in nuclear risk, and a reduced reliance on military means for addressing political conflicts.

Today, in contrast, the world is regressing. Geopolitical tensions are rising and many of the major powers are placing a renewed emphasis on the role of nuclear weapons in their military strategies.

The Aspen Ministers Forum met recently in Vienna to review the global security landscape and examine these trends in depth. We emerged from these consultations deeply troubled by the accelerating arms race between the United States and Russia, the increased risk of military incidents, and the degradation of negotiated arms reduction and nonproliferation agreements. All of these trends are contributing to a rapidly deteriorating nuclear landscape and the increasing possibility of nuclear weapons being used either deliberately or through an unintended escalation. Coming out of this meeting, we call upon leaders of all countries to address the growing risks of nuclear weapons more urgently.

The means to address [nuclear] risks are at our disposal, but they require leadership and political commitment.

The means to address these risks are at our disposal, but they require leadership and political commitment. During the Cold War era, the world proved that well-constructed, balanced and faithfully implemented legal treaties, political commitments and norms of behavior can effectively reduce tensions and the risk of conflict.

There is one achievable step in the near-term that leaders of the United States and Russia should pursue, and that is to extend the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) for another five years before it expires on February 5, 2021. With the dissolution of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, New START is the only agreement still in place that limits U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. It also provides vital verification and transparency measures that have helped foster strategic stability.

Extending New START would lay solid groundwork and build momentum towards increased international cooperation in the new decade. The recent escalation between the United States and Iran demonstrated how quickly the lack of guardrails can move us to the brink of war. Amid the erosion of international agreements and diplomatic channels, we came close to calamity. As former Foreign Ministers, we call for restraint and de-escalation, and urge all parties to utilize the tools that diplomacy offers us. The dangers of miscalculation are too grave for leaders to resort to ambiguous communication, threats, and military action.

In the years ahead, the security landscape will only be made more challenging by emerging technologies and their interplay with conventional and nuclear capabilities. Therefore, it will be crucial to create a revitalized spirit of international cooperation based on public understanding of the dangers and ways to mitigate the risk. We pledge to speak out on this issue and do our part in this effort.

Madeleine K. Albright
United States of America
Jaime Gama
Lloyd Axworthy
Ibrahim Gambari
Mohamed Benaissa
Igor Ivanov
Maria Eugenia Brizuela de Avila
El Salvador
Marina Kaljurand
Erik Derycke
Susana Malcorra
Lamberto Dini
Don McKinnon
New Zealand
Alexander Downer
Daniel Mitov
Jan Eliasson
Amre Moussa
Joschka Fischer
Marwan Muasher
Ana Palacio
George Papandreou
Lydie Polfer
Malcolm Rifkind
United Kingdom
Claudia Ruiz Massieu
Javier Solana
Hubert Védrine
Knut Vollebæk