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ASD Space Policy Keynote Address for Brookings Panel on 2023 DoD Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Policy (As Prepared)


Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Bob, for that generous introduction. I want to start by thanking everyone who put this event together. And a special thanks to the Brookings Institution for providing the platform to speak about our newly released 2023 Department of Defense Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, or CWMD. I am encouraged to know we have such a large audience today, both here and online. It goes to show how integral the CWMD issue has become to our national security. 

ASD Space Role in CWMD & The Need for New Strategy

The last time the Department released a CWMD Strategy was in 2014—nearly a decade ago. At the time, I was working at the National Security Council, alongside a certain future Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense named Richard Johnson, who you will hear from in just a few minutes. The defining WMD threats we faced then were drastically different than they are today. The primary focus was on violent extremist organizations (VEOs), as well as North Korea and Iran. The Department’s 2014 CWMD Strategy reflected those threats accordingly. 

Flash forward to today—2023—and the world looks drastically different. China is the Department’s pacing challenge. Russia is the acute threat. Those priorities are reflected in everything we do. In my role as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, my portfolio spans the Department’s strategic capabilities for integrated deterrence. 

That includes space, cyber, missile defense, nuclear weapons, and countering weapons of mass destruction . Across my entire portfolio, the challenges posed by China and Russia are front and center. 

This new security environment demanded a new Strategy. To be clear, the Department has not lost focus on the WMD threats posed by North Korea, Iran, and VEOs. But we must now contend with a world shaped by renewed competition with two near-peers, both armed with a suite of WMD capabilities. The 2023 Strategy accounts for these changes and addresses them head on.

Let me take a couple minutes to expand on this new security environment we face.


China is aggressively pursuing a rapid expansion and modernization of its nuclear forces. The speed and scale has been nothing short of breathtaking. This effort includes the expansion of fissile material production, such as fast breeder reactors like the CFR-600, and the development of more and more diverse nuclear weapons systems. At its current pace, it could field an arsenal of about 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035.

The United States is also concerned with China’s compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention. China regularly conducts research and activities with potential dual-use application for biothreats, such as its military’s R&D for toxins. 


And then there’s Russia, which is expanding and modernizing its nuclear weapons program. It continues to build non-strategic nuclear weapons and develop new and novel delivery systems. Russia has also engaged in irresponsible and troubling nuclear saber-rattling throughout its unprovoked and indefensible invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has consistently violated both its Biological and Chemical Weapons Convention obligations. Its use of the Novichok (NOV-A-CHUCK) nerve agent in attempted assassinations against the Skripals (SKREE-POLS) in 2018 and Navalny in 2020 erased any doubt that Russia retains an undeclared chemical weapons program. We also know they maintain an offensive biological war program. 

North Korea, Iran, and VEOs

Now, a renewed focus on near-peer competition does not mean that we can ignore the persistent threats of North Korea, Iran, or VEOs. In particular, North Korea and Iran continue to strengthen their WMD programs in complete disregard of international norms. 

North Korea now has options for nuclear weapons use at any stage of conflict, in addition to its longstanding chemical and biological weapon capabilities. Earlier this year, U.S. defense officials highlighted that Iran likely has the capacity to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear device in less than two weeks. State Department reports also raise concerns with Iran’s engagement in dual-use activities that could create chemical weapons, including the development of toxins and bioregulators.

And VEOs remain a very real and persistent WMD threat. We must continue to constrain VEO attempts to develop or acquire WMD through robust counterterrorism and crisis response activities. 

Technology – A Double-Edge Sword

Now I wish I could tell you that our challenges stop there, but they don’t. The rapid development of dual-use technologies is a double-edged sword. Emerging technologies can provide real benefits to humanity while simultaneously posing new challenges and increasing risks.

Developments in science and technology exacerbate the WMD threat landscape and add greater complexity to the threat because they lower the barrier to entry for new WMD actors. For instance, some of the same high-end technology that is used for fermenting large batches of beer and wine may also be used for some chemical and biological weapons activities. 

We do not want to inhibit the legitimate advances these new technologies enable. And frankly, we cannot. But we must be prepared for the repercussions of their misuse. DoD is grappling with how to best harness these opportunities while simultaneously studying and preparing for how potential adversaries may use those technologies against us. 

Our adversaries have also learned from and continue to adapt to traditional U.S. counterproliferation tools and approaches on a variety of fronts. For example, our adversaries are rapidly developing indigenous supply chains and procurement mechanisms to circumvent our efforts.

Strategic Priorities

To address all of these threats, the 2023 CWMD Strategy sets four key priorities for the Department. Because we have no time to waste, we’ve already begun implementing our efforts across the Department. 

First, the Department’s priority objective is to defend the Homeland. We are concerned that adversaries may perceive WMD threats or attacks on the U.S. Homeland as important methods to achieve their objectives. 

That is why we are executing an integrated, layered defense so the United States can engage, contain, and respond to threats globally. 

This includes improved protection of forward-deployed U.S. forces and the sustainment of specialized capabilities to support other lead federal agencies as part of a whole-of-government WMD prevention and response. 

The second priority is deterring all forms of strategic attacks. Any nuclear attack, no matter the size or scale, is a strategic attack. But we are also concerned about high-consequence attacks that would have a strategic effect using non-nuclear means. This could include attacks with chemical or biological weapons. CWMD capabilities work in concert with our powerful conventional forces, our non-nuclear strategic capabilities, and our nuclear forces, in order to deter these high consequence attacks. 

That is why the Department, in close coordination with our Allies and partners, will pursue credible integrated options to deter and defeat actors developing WMD capabilities and programs. A key element is to demonstrate the undesirable costs an actor will face should it use WMD against us. 

For example, part of our deterrence efforts include the development and fielding of modern military platforms, like the F-35 and B-21, which are dual capable aircraft that fortify our ability to deter aggression. We also exercise key CWMD elements with Allies and partners to strengthen our joint capabilities to defeat a WMD-armed actor, as we did during the exercise FORTUNE GUARD last year in Hawaii.

Our third priority is to enable U.S. forces to prevail in a CBRN environment – that’s chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear. It is essential that, along with Allied and partner forces, DoD can fight, win, and reconstitute in the face of WMD threats or attacks. 

A resilient force that can operate through adversaries’ use of WMD strengthens deterrence. Building and maintaining such a force requires investment and resources, and I am pleased to say that the Department is prioritizing this. 

The Fiscal Year 2024 President’s Budget adds approximately $812 million to Department-wide efforts to enhance biodefense. Funding for R&D, training, and exercises are all being increased. In the face of WMD threats, these activities serve to enhance the capabilities, capacity, and preparedness of both the United States and our Allies and partners. And we are maintaining an ironclad commitment to our nuclear modernization program as our ultimate backstop to deterrence.

The fourth and final priority is to prevent new WMD threats. For DoD, this requires preventing WMD proliferation and the emergence of potential new WMD actors. The CWMD enterprise must work with our Allies and partners to disrupt and degrade competitor’s efforts to improve their indigenous WMD programs. 

DoD addresses this challenge through prevention, threat reduction, and building partnership capacity. For example, our CTR program has been reoriented to focus on state actors and spends over $300 million annually to build partner capacity to reduce WMD threats. These activities have been used to train Ally and partner forces on what to look for to stop proliferation before it becomes a large-scale challenge. We also work with 106 other nations through the Proliferation Security Initiative to support global norms, share best practices and critical capabilities, and strengthen domestic laws to prevent or stop proliferation of WMDs.

Roles for Allies and Partners

The last point I want to make is that, in these remarks, I use the term Allies and partners frequently. That is not by accident. We cannot effectively counter WMD alone. This is a team effort, because in this and so many other ways, we are all in this together.

All integrated deterrence efforts are made stronger by planning with Allies and partners and by integrating their capabilities with our own. Our Allies and partners are an asymmetric advantage and force multiplier that China, Russia, North Korean, and Iran can never hope to match.

We will continue to work closely with them as we implement this Strategy.


The world looks a little different than it did a decade ago. The security environment does too. WMD threats have evolved significantly since the last time the Department rolled out a plan to counter them. But that evolution requires us to adapt, and I am proud of the work DoD is doing to tackle this challenge head on.

The end result is a strategy that makes it clear that countering the WMD threat is essential to integrated deterrence. And it is not just the responsibility of a niche community, but of the entire national security enterprise. 

Now, writing a good strategy is hard. But implementation is hard too. It is critical that we get this right, and I am confident in our way ahead. 

Thank you again to Brookings for this opportunity to speak. Thank you to everyone listening here or online for all the hard work you are doing on CWMD yourselves. I understand you are going to hear from a panel of experts next, and I am certain that it will be a great discussion.