A New Opening to Reduce the Nuclear Danger

Inside the Arms Control Association
June 2023

Earlier this month, the Biden administration outlined a viable pathway for moving back from the nuclear brink.

At ACA's annual meeting June 2, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan delivered a major policy address stating that the United States is ready to engage in nuclear arms control diplomacy with Russia, as well as the other nuclear-armed NPT states-parties "without preconditions."

Sullivan criticized Russia's suspension of its implementation of New START but he noted that "Russia has publicly committed to adhere to the Treaty's central limits, indicating a potential willingness to continue limiting strategic nuclear forces through 2026" when New START will expire.

“It is in neither [the United States' or Russia’s] interests to embark on an open-ended competition in strategic nuclear forces" and that the United States is "prepared to stick to the central limits as long as Russia does," Sullivan said.

"[R]ather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences—the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework."

At the ACA meeting, Sullivan also said the United States supports "new multilateral arms control efforts" involving the other nuclear-armed members of the NPT: China, France, and the UK.

"We’re under no illusions that reaching risk reduction and arms control measures in that setting will be easy. But we do believe it is possible," he said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said June 5 that Russia remains open to dialogue with the United States on arms control. He described Sullivan's statement as "important and positive," but said Russia wants to learn more about the proposal through formal diplomatic channels.

Though the dramatic challenge to Putin’s authority from the leader of the Wagner Group shows Putin’s regime is fragile, Putin is still in charge of Russia’s nuclear policy and its deadly nuclear arsenal.

ACA continues its steadfast work to build domestic and international pressure for Washington and Moscow to re-engage on nuclear risk reduction and arms control and to encourage the other nuclear-armed NPT States to join the nuclear disarmament enterprise to prevent open-ended nuclear competition and reduce the danger of nuclear conflict. We are:

  • Coordinating with allied organizations to build a campaign rallying popular pressure and congressional support for energetic White House pursuit of nuclear disarmament diplomacy;
  • Engaging with states at the upcoming NPT Preparatory Committee Meeting and UN General Assembly to press the nuclear-five to engage in talks to halt and reverse the arms race;
  • Consulting with civil society experts and diplomats in the United States, Russia, China, and Europe to share perspectives, ideas, and options.
  • Producing new research and ideas on effective arms control and disarmament solutions.

For more on the potential pathways for progress, see my new editorial in the July/August issue of Arms Control Today.

We cannot succeed, however, without your financial support and engagement. If you have not done so already, please become a member of ACA.

Highlights from ACA’s 2023 Annual Meeting

In addition to Jake Sullivan’s keynote speech, Austrian Ambassador for Disarmament Alexander Kmentt delivered a strong keynote address on the contradictions between disarmament and deterrence and the need for urgent action on disarmament. Joining them in the program were expert panelists discussing:

  • Preventing a Three-Way Nuclear Arms Race.
  • Reducing Nuclear Risks and Reinforcing the Nuclear Taboo.
  • The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: Is There a Diplomatic Plan B?
  • Risk and Regulation of AI in Nuclear Command and Control.

Videos of each in-depth panel and keynote speakers' remarks are available on our website. The printed program for the 2023 Annual Meeting is online here.

Our 2023 Annual Meeting was also featured in news reports published in Stars and Stripes, Euronews, Foreign Policy, Politico, Reuters, TASS, Republic World, Washington Examiner, NHK, New York Times, CNN, Breaking Defense, TIME, The Hill, Associated Press, Responsible Statecraft, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. 

New Report on Strategies to Mitigate the Risks of New and Emerging Tech

Our latest report by senior policy analyst Shannon Bugos provides an overview of the potentially destabilizing effects of several new and emerging technologies and their respective military applications, including:

  • Hypersonic weapons systems.
  • Direct offensive cyberoperations.
  • Offensive counter-space capabilities, artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled capabilities.
  • Drones, and lethal autonomous weapons systems.

The report is based on a series of workshops, involving dozens of experts in each technology area, that ACA conducted in 2021 and 2022. It identifies near-term risk mitigation measures that policymakers might pursue.

You can find all of the Arms Control Association’s resources, news reports, and resources on these issues on our new Emerging Technology webpage.

Take Action: Tell Congress to Say No to New Nuclear Weapons

Last week, the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee authorized $190 million in funding to develop a new nuclear-capable sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N) that the Biden administration has rejected.

On June 2, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan bluntly said the United States does not need to deploy “ever-more dangerous nuclear weapons to maintain deterrence."

Adding a new type of tactical nuclear weapon to the U.S. arsenal would increase the risk of nuclear war, and prompt Russia and China to build up their forces in response. It would also cost U.S. taxpayers in excess of $30 billion.

Biden made the right call to cancel the weapon, and now we need to make sure Congress doesn’t reverse the decision. Write to your congressional representatives now and tell them to block attempts to approve funding for the SLCM-N.

Tell Congress to Oppose Funding for New Nuclear Weapons

CWC Coalition Engages at the 5th Review Conference

Paul Walker, chair of the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition (CWCC), and CWCC project coordinator Mina Rozei joined some 150 NGO representatives at the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for the fifth review conference and the 25th anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention from May 15-19.

Through the coordinating efforts of the CWCC, which is based at ACA, civil society experts addressed the governmental delegates on key issues and lobbied for a more effective system for NGO participation in the CWC meetings. The full set of presentations is online here: https://www.cwccoalition.org/revcon5-ngo-statements/

For more on the RevCon, see our news report in the current issue of Arms Control Today: “CWC Conference Fails to Achieve Consensus.”

ACA in the News

  • Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy, identified “the critical point in assessing Iran’s proliferation risk” for the Financial Times in “Can Iran’s march to nuclear statehood be halted?” June 20.
  • “Responsible members of Congress, Republicans or Democrats, should… communicate clearly and strongly to Iran that there are certain lines that must not and shall not be crossed regarding their advancing nuclear program,” executive director Daryl Kimball said in The Hill, June 17.
  • Kimball noted in Foreign Policy that nuclear disarmament activism by Catholic leaders like the Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester has “stirred activism and thinking in various Catholic archdioceses,” June 15.
  • Speaking with The Intercept, senior fellow Jeff Abramson noted his frustration as “House Democrats Refuse to Say Whether They Support Cluster Bomb Shipments to Ukraine,” June 14.
  • Davenport authored an op-ed in Just Security that argues that we are seeing “An Opening to Deescalate the Iran Nuclear Crisis?” June 23.
  • Just before the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, Kimball and Physicists Coalition steering committee member Zia Mian wrote an essay urging that the “Leaders Should Choose to End All Nuclear Threats,” in Scientific American, May 17.
  • Board vice chair Paul Walker described his attendance at the inauguration of a new OPCW lab and facility in the Netherlands in Nature, May 17.