07 April 1998
(Offers congratulations to U.S.-Russian NRRC staffs) (840) By Jacquelyn S. Porth USIA Security Affairs Writer Washington -- Acting Secretary of State Strobe Talbott lauded the "vitally important work" that the U.S.-Russian Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers (NRRC) do on a 24-hour basis in the field of arms control. Talbott, standing in for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said the NRRC has been part of the larger U.S. effort to reduce tensions with the Soviet Union during the waning days of the Cold War and "to build up a new relationship with a free and democratic Russia." Many people assumed that with the end of the Cold War, the importance of arms control as objectives of foreign policy would recede, he said, but "that has not been the case." "The possibility that weapons of mass destruction might actually be used by rogue states, terrorist groups or even individuals has increased over the past decade," Talbott pointed out. He attributed that, in part, to cheaper and more mobile technology. "We must work especially hard with the new democracies of the former Soviet Union to make sure that the weapons and the expertise that they inherited from that earlier era do not wind up in the hands of those who would threaten world peace," he said, noting that the arms control treaties and verifications systems which served so well during the Cold War remain vital in the post-Cold War world. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs John Holum pointed out that arms control treaties "are only as good as the level of compliance and enforcement that we can assure." The NRRC, he said, provides the confidence that parties to an agreement "are doing what they promised." Holum said arms control verification often begins with a NRRC notification which lays out "the who, what, where, when and how of arms control actions." NRRC successes, he said, mean "the United States can approach arms control from a position of confidence and strength, and thus pursue additional steps, including the President's call for Senate ratification this year of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)." The U.S. NRRC is a 24-hour communications center located in a secured room on the seventh floor of the State Department. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Eric Newsom noted that the NRRC system evolved from a desire during the Cold War "to avoid the risk of accidental nuclear war brought about by misunderstanding or miscalculation." Whereas only 1,800 messages were exchanged between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1988 in support of only two arms control agreements, in 1997 15,000 notifications were transmitted in support of 20 agreements -- including the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The NRRC is divided into two units: staff and watch operations. It now operates seven separate communications systems which are directly or indirectly linked to more than 100 countries. There are now links, for example, with the nuclear weapons-free countries of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. There are also links to all of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe nations. NRRC Staff Director Hal Kowalski said the OSCE network is used for notifications applicable to both the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and the 1994 Vienna Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures. Asked why the NRRC is needed in this day and age, Kowalski said it is important to communicate with a defined entity and organization within the Russian Ministry of Defense. Not only does the system work, he stressed, but it is frequently useful to have a written record of important messages. While the NRRC's purpose is ostensibly for confidence- and security-building, it has also been used for purposes somewhat afield. Once, when a Russian satellite was decaying in orbit, Russia asked the United States for help with satellite tracking data. The data, which was provided through the center, helped the Russians pinpoint the incoming debris. Another time, U.S. embassy officials in Moscow used the Russian NRRC to communicate with their Washington counterparts after the embassy communications system was destroyed in a fire. After Talbott sent his congratulatory message to Moscow on April 7, he received a reply within minutes in Russian which he began translating into English for reporters. The return message from Russian General-Lieutenant V. Romanov said: "During the past 10 years of uninterrupted operations the Russian NRRC has sent to the U.S. more than 7,900 notifications and received from the U.S. more than 9,850 notifications for active treaties and agreements in the realm of arms reduction and control." Romanov said the Russian center "notes with satisfaction the high level of mutual understanding and cooperation between our centers. We are proud of the fact that our joint efforts serve the strengthening of trust and security between our great powers and for the whole world."