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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
US-Russia Nuclear Arms Control

A Turning Point on Nuclear Deterrence


July/August 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of possible use of nuclear weapons against any state that might interfere with Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine have reawakened the world to the dangers of nuclear war. The possibility of military conflict between Russian and NATO forces has significantly increased the risk of nuclear weapons use. Because Russian and U.S.-NATO military strategies reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first against non-nuclear threats, fighting could quickly go nuclear.

Photo Credit: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear WeaponsPutin’s threats violate foundational understandings designed to reduce the dangers of nuclear deterrence, including the 1973 Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, in which the United States and Russia pledged to “refrain from the threat or use of force against the other party, against the allies of the other party and against other countries, in circumstances which may endanger international peace and security.”

As egregious, worrisome, and risky as Putin’s nuclear antics are, the reaction of the international community until recently has been far too mild. The U.S. response to Putin’s nuclear threats, as well as those of Western governments that also embrace nuclear deterrence ideologies and rely on the credible threat of nuclear use, has been particularly underwhelming.

At the outset of the Russian invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden, answering a question about whether U.S. citizens should be concerned with a nuclear war breaking out, said, "No." Then, in a May 31 essay in The New York Times, Biden referred to Russia’s “occasional nuclear rhetoric” as “dangerous and extremely irresponsible,” implying that some nuclear threats are more responsible.

Fortunately, a much needed, more forceful rejection of nuclear weapons and threats of use emerged from the first meeting of states-parties to the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) held in Vienna June 21–23. Citing “increasingly strident nuclear rhetoric,” the TPNW states-parties issued the Vienna Declaration, which condemns all threats to use nuclear weapons as violations of international law, including the UN Charter. The declaration demands “that all nuclear-armed states never use or threaten to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances.”

The TPNW states-parties condemned “unequivocally any and all nuclear threats, whether they be explicit or implicit and irrespective of the circumstances.” Far from preserving peace and security, “nuclear weapons are used to coerce and intimidate; to facilitate aggression and inflame tensions. This highlights the fallacy of nuclear deterrence doctrines, which are based and rely on the threat of the actual use of nuclear weapons and, hence, the risks of the destruction of countless lives, of societies, of nations, and of inflicting global catastrophic consequences,” they added.

The declaration underscores that, for the majority of states, outdated nuclear deterrence policies create unacceptable risks. The only way to eliminate the danger is to reinforce the norms against nuclear use and the threat of use and to accelerate stalled progress toward verifiably eliminating these weapons.

Nevertheless, NATO leaders insist that the alliance must double down on its dangerous nuclear deterrence posture to prevent a Russian attack on NATO member states. In reality, U.S. and NATO nuclear weapons have proven useless in preventing Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. At the same time, Russia’s brazen nuclear threats have failed to deter NATO efforts to supply Ukraine with weapons needed to repel the Russian onslaught.

Instead, Ukraine’s partners have responded with political, economic, and diplomatic means to help Ukraine defend its territory. The conflict has demonstrated that even for a state or alliance possessing a robust nuclear arsenal, such as NATO, conventional military capabilities are the key to deterring military attacks and to ensuring battlefield success.

The more NATO rhetoric emphasizes the value of nuclear deterrence and of possessing nuclear weapons, the more legitimacy it lends to Putin’s nuclear threats and to the mistaken, dangerous belief that nuclear weapons are necessary for self-defense.

The next global gathering concerning nuclear weapons will take place in August at the 10th review conference of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). All states must seek to rise above their differences and work together to reverse today’s dangerous nuclear trends.

Non-nuclear-weapon states can build on the TPNW meeting by encouraging wider support for the norms against nuclear weapons. Rather than simply criticize Russian nuclear threats as “irresponsible,” NPT states-parties should condemn unambiguously all threats of nuclear weapons use. They must unite in demanding that the nuclear-weapon states undertake specific actions to fulfill the NPT’s Article VI disarmament provisions. This should include an explicit call for the United States and Russia to begin negotiations on new disarmament arrangements and for all NPT nuclear-armed states to freeze their nuclear stockpiles and engage in disarmament negotiations before the next NPT review conference, in 2025.

Given the growing risk of nuclear war, the first meeting of TPNW states-parties and the NPT review conference must become a turning point away from dangerous nuclear policies and arms racing that threaten global nuclear catastrophe.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats of possible use of nuclear weapons against any state that might interfere with Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine have reawakened the world to the dangers of nuclear war.

Russian-U.S. Arms Dialogue Remains Uncertain


July/August 2022
By Shannon Bugos

As Russian-U.S. tensions over Ukraine continue to grow, neither side is showing any sign of quickly resuming bilateral contact over strategic stability issues that could help avoid misunderstandings and escalation.

In remarks to the Arms Control Association annual meeting, Mallory Stewart, U.S. assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, was pessimistic about resuming stability talks with Russia because "it’s very hard to... think that our diplomacy will be taken seriously on that side.”  (Photo by Allen Harris/Arms Control Association)Russian President Vladimir Putin said on June 30 that “Russia is open to dialogue on ensuring strategic stability, preserving agreements on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and improving the situation in arms control.”

U.S. President Joe Biden similarly stated in June that engagement with Moscow on strategic stability and nuclear arms control issues must continue even as “we rally the world to hold Russia accountable for its brutal and unprovoked war on Ukraine.”

“Today—perhaps more than any other time since the Cold War—we must work to reduce the risk of an arms race or nuclear escalation,” Biden wrote in a June 2 letter to the Arms Control Association. “My administration is committed to reducing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, protecting the American people, and reinvigorating the global nuclear order to reduce the risk of use and proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

But senior U.S. administration officials indicated that current conditions in Ukraine prevent the resuscitation of the bilateral strategic stability dialogue with Russia that the United States paused at the outset of the war.

Prior to Biden’s statement, a senior U.S. official told The New York Times on June 1 that “right now it’s almost impossible to imagine” how the dialogue might resume before the last treaty limiting the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals expires in 2026. Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin extended this treaty, the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), last year for five years. (See ACT, March 2021.)

Mallory Stewart, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, made a similar point during the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting on June 2.

“With [Russia’s] illegal invasion of Ukraine and their continued, horrific 17th century activities, it’s very hard to figure out how we can sit and think that our diplomacy will be taken seriously on that side,” Stewart explained. “If there was some way to indicate good faith on their side, if there was some way to indicate that the dialogue would be more meaningful than just another meeting in Geneva, we could consider something.”

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on June 16 described the future of Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control as “important not only for the peoples of our two countries, but also for the whole world, for global security.” This topic, he added, is not one that can be avoided. But Peskov acknowledged on June 30 after Putin's remark that "there are no tangible plans" now to resume the dialogue.

Russia officially launched a full-blown war in Ukraine on Feb. 24. Within two days, the U.S. State Department announced a suspension of the strategic stability dialogue, which Biden and Putin had revived in 2021 and which last took place in January. (See ACT, March 2022; July/August 2021.)

In previous rounds of the dialogue, Washington and Moscow had begun to exchange proposals on future arms control arrangements to follow New START. They also established working groups in an attempt to make headway between official meetings. (See ACT, September and November 2021.)

“Our progress must continue beyond the New START extension,” Biden emphasized in June.

Jenkins, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said on May 26 that the United States remains committed to “eventually getting back to the table to continue the dialogue on laying the groundwork for future arms control and to the pursuit of follow-on measures” to New START.

She also reiterated the administration’s overall agenda for future arms control, to include sustaining limits on systems covered by New START, addressing new kinds of Russian nuclear weapons in the development or deployment stages, and limiting the Russian arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.

For its part, Moscow has continued to call for the creation of “a new security equation” that addresses all nuclear and non-nuclear, offensive and defensive weapons that affect strategic stability. That would include U.S. missile defense systems, which Washington has long resisted putting up for negotiation, as well as missile systems formerly banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Russia incorporated this agenda into its December proposals on security guarantees to the United States and NATO.

Given the various likely divisive topics on the table and the makeup of the U.S. Senate, Washington and Moscow have conceded that what may follow New START might not be a traditional arms control treaty, but rather another type of arms control arrangement or arrangements.

Putin’s decision to raise the alert level of Russian nuclear forces in the opening days of the war and his multiple threats since then to use nuclear weapons should any country interfere in Ukraine has further highlighted the need for a revived dialogue to ensure limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals.

Despite Putin’s hostile behavior and rhetoric, the Biden administration has repeatedly made assurances that there is not an imminent threat of Russian use of nuclear weapons.

“We currently see no indication that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine,” Biden wrote in a May 31 op-ed for The New York Times. “Let me be clear: Any use of nuclear weapons in this conflict on any scale would be completely unacceptable to us as well as the rest of the world and would entail severe consequences.”

The Pentagon also repeated its assessment on May 26 that it sees no indication that “we would need to change our strategic deterrent posture.”

Since March, U.S. national security officials have conducted a series of tabletop exercises to evaluate how the president should respond if Putin uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine or around the Black Sea. (See ACT, April 2022.) An administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Times on June 1 that the group is focusing primarily on non-nuclear responses, such as sanctions and conventional strikes.

The three ranking members on the House foreign affairs, intelligence, and armed services committees—Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Mike Turner (R-Ohio), and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), respectively—sent Biden a letter on June 17, asking for further details on how the United States might respond to the Russian use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

“We urge you to clarify U.S. policy concerning the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia in Europe and to clearly communicate such policy to the Russian government,” they wrote. “If Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the U.S. must act. This must be clear to Russia to deter their use of nuclear weapons in this unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Russia in June proceeded with military nuclear exercises after simulated nuclear exercises the previous month. The latest drills were held in Ivanovo province, northeast of Moscow, with an estimated 1,000 troops and 100 vehicles, according to the Russian Defense Ministry on June 1.

The June exercises were aimed at practicing setting up missile systems in the field, carrying out “intensive maneuvering actions on combat patrol routes,” and organizing combat security. The drills featured the nuclear-capable Yars intercontinental ballistic missile.

A Russian military official said on June 1 that the Zircon, a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile, has completed the testing phase of development and will be deployed by the end of 2022. In May, Russia said it had launched a Zircon missile from a frigate in the Barents Sea to a target about 625 miles away in the White Sea.

As U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine grow, neither shows signs of resuming bilateral contact that could avoid escalation.

The Nuclear Risk Dimension of the War On Ukraine

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Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball
Executive Director, Arms Control Association
June 20, 2022

“No matter who tries to stand in our way ... they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history ....” Russian President Vladimir Putin, February 24

"If someone wants to interfere in the situation in Ukraine from the outside and creates an unacceptable threat of a strategic nature for Russia, the response will be lightning-fast, decisions on this matter have been made,” Mr. Putin said at a meeting with members of the Council of Legislators April 27.

"Russia's response will be immediate and will lead you to consequences that you have never faced in your history. We are ready for any development of events," the Russian president added. He said that Russia has all the tools for this, "such as no one can boast of now. We will use them, if necessary," Vladimir Putin warned.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine, along with his implied threats of nuclear weapons use against any who would interfere, have raised the specter of a nuclear conflict in ways we have not experienced in the post-Cold War era.

  • Russia’s war on Ukraine and the ongoing possibility of military conflict between Russian and NATO forces have significantly increased the risk of nuclear weapons use.
     
  • Unlike the extremely dangerous 13-day-long Cuban missile crisis of October 1962, the war in Ukraine, will likely last many more months. And unlike the 1962 crisis, which did not involve a sustained exchange of fire, the war in Ukraine does. As a result, the world will remain in a condition of heightened nuclear danger for some time to come.
     
  • President Putin’s statements threatening possible nuclear use, and his announcement early in the conflict that he was raising the readiness level of Russian strategic nuclear forces, are designed to ward off outside military interference by U.S. and NATO forces in his attack on Ukraine.
     
  • From a legal perspective, the International Court of Justice unanimously determined in its 1996 advisory opinion that a threat to engage in nuclear weapons use, particularly under the circumstances suggested by Mr. Putin, is contrary to international humanitarian law, and, of course, the threat to use nuclear weapons, violates the UN Charter, and under any circumstance, is prohibited by the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
     
  • Putin’s threats also violate Article II of the 1973 bilateral Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, which pledged the United States and Russia to “refrain from the threat or use of force against the other Party, against the allies of the other Party and against other countries, in circumstances which may endanger international peace and security.”
     
  • So far, President Joe Biden has not engaged in inflammatory nuclear rhetoric or raised the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces. U.S. and NATO leaders have made it clear their military forces will not directly enter the conflict. Nevertheless, the risk of escalation is real. A close encounter between NATO and Russian warplanes or an attack by Russia on NATO territory or vice versa could become a flashpoint for a wider conflict.
     
  • Because Russian and U.S. strategies reserve the option—under extreme circumstances—to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threats, fighting could quickly go nuclear. Russian nuclear doctrine states that nuclear weapons can be used in response to an attack with weapons of mass destruction or if a conventional war threatens the “very existence of the state.” Right now, these conditions do not exist. But if the Kremlin believes a serious attack on Russia is underway, it might order the use of short-range, tactical nuclear weapons to tip the military balance in its favor. Such a scenario would seem unlikely, but it cannot be ruled out.

    U.S. President Joe Biden’s new Nuclear Posture Review states that the “fundamental role” of the U.S. arsenal will be to deter nuclear attacks while still leaving open the option for nuclear first use in “extreme circumstances” to counter conventional, biological, chemical, and possibly cyberattacks.
     
  • In addition to the possibility of an escalation of the fighting beyond the borders of Ukraine to involve NATO and Russian forces and territory, there is the potential, albeit small this time, that Russia might consider the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine itself. In April, CIA Director William Burns said that although there is no sign that Russia is preparing to do so, “none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons."
     
  • Since then, Russian officials have denied there is any intention to do so because the Russian state is clearly not under imminent threat from either Ukraine or NATO. But if the Kremlin thought an attack from the United States or NATO was underway or if the Kremlin finds that Russian forces are on the verge of a catastrophic defeat in Ukraine, Putin might consider the nuclear option, perhaps beginning with the use of short-range, “tactical” nuclear weapons, to try to tip the balance in Russia’s military favor or to try to end the conflict.
     
  • Once nuclear weapons are used in a conflict, particularly between nuclear-armed adversaries, we are in completely uncharted territory. Theories that a nuclear war can be “limited” are just theories. In practice and in the fog of nuclear war, once nuclear weapons are used in a conflict involving the United States and Russia, there is no guarantee it would not quickly become an all-out nuclear conflagration. A recent Princeton Program on Science and Global Security simulation estimates the use of nuclear weapons in war between NATO and Russian forces could lead to the death and injury of nearly 100 million people in just the first few hours. As the head of U.S. Strategic Command General John Hyten said in 2018 after the annual Global Thunder nuclear wargame: “It ends bad. And the bad meaning it ends with global nuclear war.”
     
  • Nuclear threats and alerts of various kinds were not uncommon during the Cold War, before the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and after. But Russia’s implied nuclear threats to shield an attack by a nuclear-armed state against a non-nuclear-weapon state is unprecedented—and unacceptable—in the post-Cold War era. And since the Soviet Union dissolved, no U.S. or Russian leader has raised the alert level of nuclear forces to try to coerce a potential nuclear adversary’s behavior.
     
  • Such actions are dangerous for all sides. Nuclear threat rhetoric and orders to raise the operational readiness of Russian or U.S. nuclear forces could be also misinterpreted in ways that lead the other side to make nuclear countermoves that trigger nuclear escalatory moves, fears of an imminent attack, and potentially nuclear weapons use.
     
  • We must also understand that another feature of the war is that Russia is “using” its nuclear weapons to provide cover for a major conventional military intervention against an independent, sovereign non-nuclear-weapon state. We must also recognize that this is not a uniquely Russian idea. Adm. Charles Richard, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, said in February 2021 that “[w]e must acknowledge the foundational nature of our nation’s strategic nuclear forces, as they create the ‘maneuver space’ for us to project conventional military power strategically.”
     
  • Putin’s invasion also underscores the fact that nuclear weapons don’t prevent major wars. Rather, they can facilitate aggression by nuclear-armed states and make wars waged by nuclear-armed states far more dangerous—especially when nuclear-armed states become pitted against one another and there is an increased risk of miscalculation and miscommunication.
     
  • Of course, Russia’s 2014 occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and its more recent invasion violates the security assurances extended to Ukraine in 1994 by the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States through the Budapest Memorandum—and makes a mockery of the negative security assurances extended to nonnuclear weapons states in the context of the NPT.
     
  • NATO countries may argue that because Russia has not attacked a NATO member, this shows the utility of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. In reality, U.S. and NATO nuclear weapons have proven to be useless in preventing Russian aggression against Ukraine.

    Instead, Ukraine’s allies and friends have responded with political, economic, and diplomatic means to help defend Ukraine and thwart the aggressor, along with military and humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine defend its territory. Even for a state or alliance possessing a robust nuclear arsenal, conventional military capabilities are key to deterring conventional attacks and to battlefield success, or failure.
     
  • Russia’s explicit nuclear threats, which President Biden and other leaders have criticized as “irresponsible,” also create a dilemma for NATO, which is a self-declared nuclear alliance that depends on maintaining the credible threat of nuclear use.

    The more NATO emphasizes the value of nuclear deterrence and the value of possessing nuclear weapons, the more legitimacy it lends to Putin’s nuclear threats and the mistaken and dangerous belief that nuclear weapons are necessary for self-defense. As Pope Francis declared in 2017: “[Nuclear weapons] exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race [and] create nothing but a false sense of security.”

Finally, the conflict has derailed the “Strategic Stability Dialogue” between Washington and Moscow that was intended to lead to negotiations on new nuclear arms reduction agreements designed to supersede the New START agreement, which will expire in early 2026.

In a statement issued to the Arms Control Association on June 2, President Biden said: “Our progress must continue beyond the New START …” But it remains unclear whether and when the U.S.-Russian dialogue will resume, let alone whether they can reach agreement on capping or further reducing their bloated arsenals beyond 2026.

As a result, neither side can say they are meeting their legally binding nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty obligations under Article VI of the treaty, and it is more likely than not that after 2026, there will be no legally-binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear stockpiles—something the world has not seen in more than five decades.

Response Options: As the war drags on, it is vital that Russian, NATO, and U.S. leaders maintain lines of communication to prevent direct conflict. They must refrain from threatening nuclear rhetoric and actions that increase the risk of nuclear escalation, such as moving to deploy tactical nuclear weapons, putting strategic weapons on higher alert levels, or developing new types of nuclear weapons designed for fighting and “winning” a regional nuclear war.

In particular, the international community needs to take stronger action to strengthen the legal and political norms against nuclear weapons use and the threat of use of nuclear weapons.

We must also press the nuclear-armed states to finally take the actions necessary to fulfill their commitments to verifiably reduce and eliminate their nuclear weapons and adopt non-nuclear approaches to defense that can more effectively preserve international peace and human security.

The March 2 vote in the General Assembly condemning Russia’s invasion and Putin’s decision to increase the readiness of his nuclear forces, was important but is not sufficient. We should recall that the UNGA issued a declaration in November 1961 that said that “any state using nuclear…weapons is to be considered as violating the Charter of the UN, as acting contrary to the laws of humanity and as committing a crime against mankind and civilization.”

The first meeting of states parties to the TPNW is a crucial and timely opportunity to reinforce the norms against nuclear weapons. States attending the 10th NPT Review Conference must also seek to reinforce the norm against nuclear use and nuclear threats and steer the nuclear possessor states away from nuclear confrontation and arms racing and toward a resumption of disarmament negotiations.

Bottom Lines: The nuclear dimensions of the war on Ukraine are reminders that outdated nuclear deterrence policies create unacceptable risks. If we are to eliminate the danger, we must actively reinforce the legal prohibitions and norms against nuclear weapons development, testing, possession, proliferation, and use—and press for disarmament diplomacy that leads to concrete actions that put us on the path toward the complete, irreversible, and verifiable elimination of all nuclear weapons in our lifetimes.

Description: 

Remarks by Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, to the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons, June 20, 2022

Country Resources:

After Exercise, Russia Downplays Nuclear Threat


June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Russia simulated launches of nuclear weapons during military exercises in the Kaliningrad enclave in May, according to its defense ministry, even as Russian diplomats attempted to downplay the likelihood of Russia employing nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Russia has used the Iskander-M missile, shown parading through Red Square, to pummel Ukraine and conducted simulated launches of nuclear weapons with the missile during military exercises in the Kaliningrad enclave in May.  (Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)The Russian exercise included “electronic launches” of dual-capable, road-mobile Iskander-M ballistic missiles against targets such as airfields, equipment depots, and military command posts. The Russian Defense Ministry said that more than 100 troops participated in the simulation launched from Kaliningrad, which is located between the NATO countries of Lithuania and Poland along the Baltic coast. Russia has used conventional Iskander-M missiles extensively in Ukraine.

Despite the nuclear simulation and continued threatening rhetoric from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Ministry officials have dismissed the prospect of Russia employing nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.

When questioned about the possibility of nuclear war, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asserted on May 1 that “Russia has never ceased its efforts to reach agreements that would guarantee the prevention of a nuclear war.” He emphasized that Moscow has agreed twice in the past year to reaffirm the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Konstantin Gavrilov, head of Russia’s delegation on arms control in Vienna, said more directly on May 4 that “we by no means pursue any nuclear war-related aims on the territory of Ukraine.” Alexey Zaitsev, Russian Foreign Ministry deputy spokesperson, echoed this on May 6, saying that nuclear weapons “are not applicable to the implementation of the tasks set in the course of the special military operation in Ukraine.”

Zaitsev pointed to four scenarios in which Moscow might use nuclear weapons, including when the state’s existence is perceived to be in jeopardy. The scenarios are outlined in the Russian nuclear deterrence policy released in June 2020. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

The remarks by the Foreign Ministry officials differ from Putin’s statements since the start of the war in Ukraine, in which he has threatened to use nuclear weapons if any country attempts to intercede on Ukraine’s behalf. (See ACT, March 2022.)

“If anyone intends to intervene from the outside and create a strategic threat to Russia that is unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning fast,” Putin reiterated on April 27. “We have the tools we need for this…[and] we will use them if necessary.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has described such rhetoric as irresponsible and dangerous. “No one should be making idle comments about the use of nuclear weapons or the possibility that they’d use that,” he said on April 28.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby commented on the Russian war game and threats of nuclear use, dismissing the prospect of a U.S. or NATO reaction. “Has that exercise or has this rhetoric resulted in us changing the footprint on NATO’s eastern flank? No,” he told reporters on May 5.

Nevertheless, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines assured Congress on May 12 that the United States “will remain vigilant in monitoring every aspect of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.”

Thus far, neither the United States nor NATO has mirrored Putin’s decision in February to raise the alert level of Russian nuclear forces. Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, testified in March that he sees no need to change U.S. nuclear force posture. Kirby said on May 5 that the United States is “comfortable and confident that our strategic deterrent posture is well placed and robust enough to defend the homeland, as well as our allies and partners.” (See ACT, April 2022.)

Haines said that “there is not a sort of an imminent potential for Putin to use nuclear weapons.” But she added that he may engage in some further signaling of Russian disapproval of U.S. support for Ukraine “by authorizing another large nuclear exercise involving a major dispersal of mobile intercontinental missiles, heavy bombers, [and] strategic submarines.”

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumed communication with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoigu, with an hour-long phone call on May 13, the first since the invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.

During the call, Austin “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication,” according to the Pentagon readout. A senior defense official added that the department had “been consistently asking for this conversation,” but it was not until that week when Shoigu finally agreed.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley then spoke with his Russian counterpart, Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, on May 19, also for the first time since the war started.

Moscow and Washington created a Russian-U.S. deconfliction line at the operational level between the Russian Defense Ministry and U.S. European Command in March, but there has been no communication at the most senior level until now.

China has called for restraint. “No one wants to see the outbreak of a third world war,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on May 23.

The military exercises simulated launches of nuclear weapons.

Fifty Years Ago, the First Strategic Arms Limitation Agreements Were Concluded

Fifty years ago, on May 26, 1972, the first bilateral nuclear arms control agreements were struck: the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The breakthrough agreements, which began the process of slowing the nuclear arms race, followed the entry into force of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970. The U.S.-Soviet agreements were the product of intensive negotiations that began in 1969. The chief American negotiator was Gerard Smith, who had been appointed the director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency by then-president Richard...

U.S., Russia Adhering to New Start Despite War


May 2022
By Shannon Bugos

A few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and Russia exchanged data on their respective strategic nuclear forces as required by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The data shared on March 1 showed that the countries remain at or below the treaty limits on deployed strategic warheads and their delivery vehicles.

“At a time when direct contacts are being curtailed, antagonism runs high, and trust [is] completely lost, it is nothing short of amazing that Russia and the United States continue to abide by the…treaty and exchange classified information as if nothing had happened,” wrote Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists in an April 6 blog post. The data exchange was made public on April 5.

The treaty limits U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces to 1,550 warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles, which are defined as intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers assigned to a nuclear mission.

The United States deploys 1,515 warheads on 686 delivery vehicles, and Russia deploys 1,474 warheads on 526 delivery vehicles, as of the latest data exchange.

Under New START, the two sides are allowed a certain number of on-site inspections each year, but those inspections have been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, the two sides have continued to exchange various notifications on the status and basing or facility assignment of their respective strategic forces, for a total of 23,609 notifications as of April 7.

The treaty’s implementing body, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, ordinarily meets twice per year, but those meetings have also been paused because of the pandemic.

Alexander Darchiyev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North American Department, said on March 8
that “we’re preparing for the upcoming spring session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission.” Further information on when the commission may convene is unknown.

The exchange of New START data occurred after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 27 order to move his country’s nuclear forces to the heightened alert status of a “special regime of combat duty” in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (See ACT, March 2022.) Although additional such orders have not been given, Russian officials have defended Putin’s order in the ensuing weeks. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov eventually downplayed the threat of nuclear war in late March. (See ACT, April 2022.)

On April 20, Russia test-launched a new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile called the Sarmat. Although Putin called the test a warning to those in the West who “try to threaten our country,” some U.S. experts played down the impact saying Moscow notified Washington in advance as required under New START. The experts also estimated that SARMAT was initially slated to be operationally deployed in 2021, meaning the system is now behind schedule.

Russia and the United States are fulfilling their treaty commitments despite tensions over Ukraine.

“The Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons and Russia’s War on Ukraine: Meeting the Legal and Political Challenge"

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022
11:00 am to 12:30 pm U.S. Eastern Time

Prior to and during Russia’s war against Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has threatened the possible use of nuclear weapons should other states “interfere” in Russian military operations. Such threats of the use of force are the cornerstone of nuclear deterrence but, especially where states hold the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict, open the door to escalation and the actual use of nuclear weapons.

How can the international community meet the urgent challenges from the threat of use of nuclear weapons?

Our panelists included: 

  • Amb. Alexander Kmentt (Director of Disarmament, Arms Control and Nonproliferation at the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; President-designate for the first Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW)
  • Zia Mian (co-director, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University)
  • John Burroughs (Senior Analyst, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy)
  • Alicia Sanders-Zakre (Policy and Research Coordinator at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)
  • Daryl Kimball (Executive Director, Arms Control Association)
  • Ariana N. Smith (Executive Director, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy) - moderator

Sponsored by the Arms Control Association, the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, and the Princeton University Program on Science and Global Security  

Description: 

President Vladimir Putin has threatened the possible use of nuclear weapons should other states interfere in Russian war in Ukraine. How can the international community meet the urgent challenges from such threat of use of nuclear weapons?

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Arms Control Must Remain the Goal


April 2022
By Andrei Zagorski

Less than four years ago, experts would acknowledge the possibility that Ukraine could eventually become an arena for Russian-NATO confrontation and predict that “any significant reescalation of military hostilities in Ukraine, pushing NATO, Russia or both to intervene directly or indirectly, may quickly grow into a direct military engagement in the most sensitive areas along their shared border,” as suggested by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) network of think tanks and academic institutions. Such a development would also bear the danger of potential nuclear escalation of the conflict.1

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his address to the nation at the Kremlin on February 21, three days before launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. After failing to secure a quick victory over Kyiv, Putin has raised fears that he may use chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons in the war. (Photo by Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)Although this scenario appeared remote at the time, Russia is weeks into its war in Ukraine; and the possibility of a nuclear escalation involving Russia, NATO, and the United States has reached levels not seen since the end of the Cold War. Since the beginning of the war in late February, Russia and the United States have played the nuclear deterrence card to communicate what they would see as redlines, the crossing of which could trigger World War III. As the hostilities evolved, however, these redlines seemed to blur, opening grey areas and thus increasing the ambiguity as to what developments could lead to inadvertent nuclear escalation. This highlights the need for a more robust mechanism, including relevant arms control measures, to appropriately address this inherent danger.

Mutual Signaling

From the beginning of the conflict, the United States and NATO repeatedly conveyed the message that they would not send troops to defend Ukraine, although they were prepared to arm the government in Kyiv and raise the costs of the intervention for Russia. Still, while launching the military operation, Russian President Vladimir Putin explicitly warned the West not to think of intervening militarily, implicitly threatening that this could lead to a nuclear war. “I would now like to say something very important for those who may be tempted to interfere in these developments from the outside,” Putin said on February 24. “No matter who tries to stand in our way or, all the more so, create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately, and the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history. No matter how the events unfold, we are ready. All the necessary decisions in this regard have been taken. I hope that my words will be heard.”2

At the same time, U.S. President Joe Biden also signaled that the United States would not shy away from entering a world war that, by default, would become nuclear should the Russian military operation be extended beyond the borders of Ukraine and spill over onto the territory of any NATO member states. “If they move once—granted, if we respond, it is World War III, but we have a sacred obligation on NATO territory,”3 Biden said on March 11. Yet, the devil is in the details. In the course of the hostilities, many questions have arisen and more may arise in the future as to whether a particular action could be seen by one or another side as an escalation that could lead to direct engagement.

Although the politically controversial option of establishing a no-fly zone in Ukraine was rejected by the United States and NATO because it might lead to direct engagement between Russian and NATO combat aircraft, the consequences of other options were less obvious. Could the continuous supply of weapons to Ukraine from NATO member states amid the hostilities be interpreted as direct interference by the Western alliance in the war? Although Moscow would not take it that far, the Kremlin has made it clear that “any cargo moving into Ukrainian territory, which we would believe is carrying weapons, would be fair game.”4 It seems that this proposition is tacitly accepted in the West. Yet, if the Ukrainian air force launches from airfields on the territory of neighboring NATO member states, such as Romania and Poland—an option considered for a while during the early weeks of the war—would that provoke Russian strikes against such facilities, thus extending the military operation beyond the borders of Ukraine, and would NATO consider it a casus belli?

Such questions suggest how developments on the ground and decisions made by top leaders could further blur the redlines established by nuclear deterrence postures on both sides and set in motion an inadvertent escalation of the war. So far, Russia and the United States have exercised restraint in order to avoid such unintended escalation. One example was the U.S. decision to postpone a scheduled Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile flight test.5 Nevertheless, uncertainties persist and grow as the war continues.

A Wake-Up Call?

What lessons will be learned about the long-standing Russian and U.S. nuclear deterrence postures when the war in Ukraine is over? Will the war serve as a wake-up call similar to the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 and lead to cooperative measures to reduce the risk of a nuclear war, not least by means of arms control agreements that could keep the escalatory dynamic from spinning out of control? Will this conflict lead to a new conventional and nuclear arms race extended to new domains, such as cyberwarfare? The answers to these questions are not obvious, but the world is more dangerous now than it was 20 or even 10 years ago.

At the moment, there is no way to know how the war in Ukraine might end. It seems that, for the time being, Kyiv is ready to negotiate with Moscow and may be prepared to abandon the goal of NATO membership for Ukraine, pending approval by a constitutional majority of the Ukrainian parliament or by a referendum. The issue of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the status of Crimea and the Donbas will poison relations between Moscow and Kyiv and Moscow and the West over the long term. So far, all options remain open, including Ukraine being pulled back into the Russian orbit; retaining room for maneuvering between Russia and the West as a nonaligned country like Finland, Yugoslavia, or Austria did during the Cold War; or even continuing to pursue its European option without aspiring for NATO membership.

Whatever the outcome, with Russia drawing its redlines on the ground unilaterally, the current dividing line in Europe will deepen. There will be no easy way to return to the discussion of a wider European security agenda, as anticipated in talks preceding the war, including on the concept of indivisible security, a concept that was at the heart of Russian proposals for years.6 An OSCE summit to address these issues, as proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, is off the agenda for the time being. Nevertheless, the war has highlighted the enduring need to continue addressing relevant issues of strategic stability in order to minimize the risk of an unintentional stumble into the danger of nuclear escalation in a crisis.

As argued in 1958 by Alfred Wohlstetter, the existence of nuclear weapons does not automatically prevent a nuclear war but increases the danger of accidental wars particularly during a crisis, although this risk can be mitigated by arms control measures.7 This finding, which at the time seemed mostly intellectual, was reinforced by practical experience as Moscow and Washington engaged in crisis management when decisions had to be made under severe emotional stress, time pressure, and insufficient and contradictory information. The need for nuclear arms control was one of the most important lessons learned from this experience so that, in the end, it was not nuclear arms but nuclear arms control that has prevented a nuclear World War III.8

It is the evidence of the grey zone, in which the redlines of mutual nuclear deterrence tend to blur in the ongoing war in Ukraine, that suggests that nuclear arms control must be strengthened and not further dismembered despite the current collapse of Russian-Western relations.

Toward this end, several steps need to be addressed urgently. In the first instance, these must include the resumption of the Russian-U.S. strategic stability dialogue so that the two sides do not lose transparency into each other’s nuclear force structure and the predictability of their strategic postures with the expiration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and its verification regime four years from now.

It is also in the security interests of both sides to agree on measures of restraint and cooperation with respect to dangerous military incidents and their deescalation so that eventual incidents do not ratchet up tensions even more. In this regard, reopening the lines of communication between the Russian and NATO defense establishments is essential.

Finally, at a later stage, NATO and Russia should open discussions once again on where and how their conventional forces should be configured in areas where the two sides come into close geographic contact. A formal agreement with appropriate transparency and verification should be the goal even if it takes a long time to get there.

 

ENDNOTES

1. OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions, “Reducing the Risks of Conventional Deterrence in Europe: Arms Control in the NATO-Russia Contact Zones,” December 2018, pp. 8, 12, 14, https://osce-network.net/file-OSCE-Network/Publications/RISK_SP.pdf.

2. “Address by the President of the Russian Federation,” February 24, 2022, President of Russia, http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/67843.

3. Josh Wingrove, “Biden Says He’d Fight World War III for NATO but Not for Ukraine,” Bloomberg, March 11, 2022.

4. Embassy of the Russian Federation in New Zealand, “Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's Interview With RT TV, 18 March 2022,” March 19, 2022, https://newzealand.mid.ru/en/press_center/news/foreign_minister_sergey_lavrov_s_interview_with_rt_tv_18_march_2022/.

5. Daryl G. Kimball, “How to Avoid Nuclear Catastrophe—and a Costly New Arms Race,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 11, 2022, https://thebulletin.org/2022/03/how-to-avoid-nuclear-catastrophe-and-a-costly-new-arms-race/.

6. See Rachel Ellehuus and Andrei Zagorski, “Restoring the European Security Order,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 2019, pp. 2–3, https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/190313_EllehuusandZagorski_RestoringEuropeanOrder.pdf; Jeremy Shapiro et al., “Regional Security Architecture,” in A Consensus Proposal for a Revised Regional Order in Post-Soviet Europe and Eurasia, ed. Samuel Charap et al. (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corp., 2019), pp. 9–31, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/conf_proceedings/CF400/CF410/RAND_CF410.pdf.

7. Alfred Wohlstetter, “The Delicate Balance of Terror,” P-1472, RAND Corp., 1958, https://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/P1472.html.

8. Alexey Arbatov, “Escalating the Nuclear Rhetoric,” in Preventing the Crisis of Nuclear Arms Control and Catastrophic Terrorism (Moscow: National Institute of Corporate Reform, 2016), p. 15, http://www.luxembourgforum.org/media/documents/Washington_eng-PREVIEW_FINAL_PRINT_VERSION.pdf.


Andrei Zagorski leads the Department for Disarmament and Conflict Resolution Studies at the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences and is a member on the trilateral Deep Cuts Commission.

 

New hostilities between Russia and the West highlight the need for a more robust mechanism, including arms control measures, to address the danger.

Biden’s Reported Decision to Retain Option to Use Nuclear Weapons Against Non-Nuclear Threats Is Disappointing, Illogical, and Dangerous

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For Immediate Release: March 25, 2022

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, executive director (202-463-8270 x107); Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst (202-463-8270 x113)

(Washington, D.C.)— President Joseph R. Biden has stepped back from a campaign vow and approved an old Obama-era policy that allows for a potential nuclear response to deter conventional and other non-nuclear dangers in addition to nuclear ones, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal Thursday.

Biden’s policy will reportedly declare that the “fundamental role” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be to deter nuclear attacks. Such a policy, the officials said, will leave open the possibility that nuclear weapons could also be used in “extreme circumstances” to deter conventional, biological, chemical, and possibly cyberattacks by adversaries.

“If the report is correct, President Biden will have failed to follow through on his explicit 2020 campaign promise to adopt a much clearer and narrower policy regarding nuclear weapons use, and he will have missed a crucial opportunity to move the world back from the nuclear brink,” charged Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

Biden wrote in Foreign Affairs: “As I said in 2017, I believe that the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring—and, if necessary, retaliating against—a nuclear attack. As president, I will work to put that belief into practice, in consultation with the U.S. military and U.S. allies.”

“Putin’s deadly war against Ukraine, his nuclear saber-rattling, and Russia’s policy that reserves the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict with NATO underscore even more clearly how extremely dangerous it is for nuclear-armed states to threaten the use of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear threats—and it reinforces why it is necessary to move rapidly away from dangerous Cold War-era thinking about nuclear weapons,” Kimball said.

“Biden has apparently failed to seize his opportunity to meaningfully narrow the role of nuclear weapons and failed, through his NPR, to distinguish U.S. nuclear policy from Russia’s dangerous nuclear doctrine that threatens nuclear first use against non-nuclear threats,” he added.

“There is no plausible military scenario, no morally defensible reason, nor legally justifiable basis for threatening or using nuclear weapons first—if at all. As Presidents Reagan, Biden, Gorbachev, and even Putin have all said, a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” Kimball said. “Once nuclear weapons are used in a conflict between nuclear-armed states, there is no guarantee it will not result in nuclear retaliation and escalation to an all-out nuclear exchange.”

“We also strongly urge the administration to explain how Biden’s nuclear weapons declaratory policy will differ from Russia’s dangerous nuclear doctrine and under what circumstances the United States might believe it would make sense to initiate the use of nuclear weapons for the first time since 1945,” he said.

Shannon Bugos, a senior policy analyst at the Arms Control Association, added, “The final Biden NPR should also reiterate the longstanding U.S. commitment to actively pursue further verifiable reductions in the still bloated nuclear stockpiles of the United States and Russia, and to seek to engage China and other nuclear-armed states in the disarmament enterprise.”

“The sobering reality is that it would take just a few hundred U.S. or Russian strategic nuclear weapons to destroy each other’s military capacity, kill hundreds of millions of innocent people, and produce a planetary climate catastrophe,” she noted.

“Maintaining ambiguity about using nuclear weapons first is dangerous, illogical, and unnecessary," said Bugos.

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Biden has apparently failed to seize his opportunity to meaningfully narrow the role of nuclear weapons and failed through his Nuclear Posture Review.

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Putin’s Assault on Ukraine and the Nonproliferation Regime


March 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

President Vladimir Putin has chosen the path of destruction instead of diplomacy. His months-long buildup of a massive Russian invasion force encircling Ukraine and his decision on Feb. 21 to order Russian soldiers into the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk have set in motion a catastrophic war. Putin’s indefensible, premeditated assault on Ukraine will heighten tensions between NATO and Russia, increase the risk of conflict elsewhere in Europe, and undermine prospects for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament—for years to come.

A short-range Iskander missile system flight test. Russian intermediate-range missiles, like the controversial 9M729, are launched from similar platforms. (Photo credit: Russian Defense Ministry.)There are many grievances fueling Putin’s latest and most brazen attempt to reset the post-Cold War European security order through military force. Some are real, such as the effect of NATO’s expansion on the military balance in Europe, and some are imagined. No rationale, however, justifies a violent attack by Russia on one of its neighbors.

In an angry speech announcing his decision to move Russian forces into Ukraine, Putin espoused wild, ethno-racialist, and historically inaccurate claims that Ukraine is not a legitimate state and belongs within a greater Russia. He voiced hyperbolic claims that an independent, westward-leaning Ukraine, which he falsely charged might even build nuclear weapons, is a grave threat to Russia.

Putin’s military adventurism—including Russia’s conflict with Georgia in 2008, its takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, its cyberattacks and political influence games—and his push to modernize Russia’s military have already spurred NATO member states to bolster their military postures. Not surprisingly, Putin’s behavior has led Ukrainians to see Moscow as a threat and seek Western support.

Putin’s aggression against Ukraine violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States extended security assurances against the threat or use of force against Ukraine’s territory or political independence. In response, Ukraine acceded to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear-weapon state and gave up the 1,900 nuclear warheads it inherited from the Soviet Union. Ukraine, Russia, and the world were safer as a result. But Putin’s behavior undermines the NPT and reinforces the impression that nuclear-armed states can bully non-nuclear states, thus reducing the incentives for disarmament and making it more difficult to prevent nuclear proliferation.

The vicious cycle of mistrust between Russia and the West in recent years has been exacerbated by the loss—through negligence, noncompliance, or outright withdrawal—of important conventional and nuclear arms control agreements that helped end the Cold War. These guardrails included the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which was designed to prevent major force buildups on the continent; the Open Skies Treaty, which provided transparency about military capabilities and movements; the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was designed to prevent an unconstrained offense-defense arms race; and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which reduced the danger of nuclear war in Europe. As a result, cooperation between the parties has eroded, concerns about military capabilities have grown, and the risk of miscalculation is higher.

With Putin’s deadly war against Ukraine now underway, the United States, Europe, and the international community must maintain a strong and unified response, including more powerful sanctions against key Russian institutions and leaders. The besieged people of Ukraine require urgent assistance from the international community. As it should, the Kyiv government will get defensive military assistance to deter Putin from seizing more, if not all, of its territory.

In the days and weeks ahead, leaders in Moscow, Washington, and Europe must be careful to avoid new and destabilizing military deployments, close encounters between Russian and NATO forces, and the introduction of offensive weapons that undermine common security. For example, the offer from Russia’s client state, Belarus, to host Russian tactical nuclear weapons, if pursued by Putin, would further undermine Russian and European security, and increase the risk of nuclear war.

Although Putin’s regime must suffer international isolation now, U.S. and Russian leaders must eventually seek to resume talks through their stalled strategic security dialogue to defuse broader NATO-Russia tensions and maintain common sense arms control measures to prevent an all-out arms race.

Russia’s December 2021 proposals on security and the Biden administration responses show there is room for negotiations to resolve mutual concerns, including agreements to scale back large military exercises and prevent the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe or western Russia. Washington must test whether Russia is serious about such options.

In the long run, U.S., Russian, and European leaders, and their people, cannot lose sight of the fact that war and the threat of nuclear war are the common enemies. Russia and the West have an interest in striking agreements that further slash bloated strategic nuclear forces, regulate shorter-range “battlefield” nuclear arsenals, and set limits on long-range missile defenses before the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement, New START, expires in early 2026. Otherwise, the next showdown will be even riskier.

President Vladimir Putin has chosen the path of destruction instead of diplomacy.

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