"More nuclear weapons make every person in every nation less secure."
Statement by Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director
(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—At the June 2, 2023 Arms Control Association annual conference, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan delivered a timely address (online here) detailing the Biden administration’s vision to head off nuclear weapons competition and advance arms control at a time of increasing nuclear peril.
Due to a decade of inaction on nuclear disarmament, noncompliance with key arms control agreements and norms, Russia's disastrous war on Ukraine, and rising U.S.-China tensions, we are on the verge of a dangerous three-way arms race that no one can win. In the coming months, we look forward to working alongside the Biden administration as it puts its vision of pursuing effective nuclear arms control and risk reduction efforts among nuclear-weapon states into action.
We encourage President Biden and his team to reinforce Mr. Sullivan’s remarks by asserting that more nuclear weapons make every person in every nation less secure, as well as emphasizing that the United States will exercise prudent nuclear restraint, persistently pursue disarmament diplomacy, and work together with the other major nuclear-armed states to achieve their collective nuclear disarmament responsibilities.
We hope President Biden will pursue a whole of government approach to rallying global opinion around the ongoing need for all five nuclear-armed states under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to adhere to their treaty obligations to "pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.” Failure to do so risks a global arms race and the eventual unraveling of the NPT.
Therefore, the Biden administration should make a concerted and sustained effort to urge the leaders of China, France, and the United Kingdom to agree to freeze the size of their nuclear arsenals as long as Russia and the United States meet their most basic disarmament responsibilities. While not eliminating the threat of nuclear war, such a global freeze would increase the chances of engaging China in arms control at the multilateral level and improve chances for progress on overdue, ambitious nuclear risk reduction and disarmament measures.
Unfortunately, as Russia wages a brutal war against Ukraine, the negotiation of a complex new bilateral nuclear arms control agreement to replace New START before its expiration in early 2026 is untenable. However, as Mr. Sullivan made clear, it is not in either country’s interest to engage in a costly and dangerous nuclear arms race.
To head off that possibility, we implore Russian President Vladimir Putin to shift gears and accept President Biden’s offer to engage in a dialogue on what follows New START. At the same time, the Biden administration should pursue a robust, diplomatic push for the United States and Russia to conclude a unilateral, reciprocal arrangement – verified with national technical means of intelligence – that commits the two countries to not exceeding the deployed strategic warhead limit of 1,550 set by New START until a more permanent arms control arrangement comes into effect.
Mr. Sullivan was smart to push back on the extreme proposals from the Dr. Strangelove caucus in Congress calling for the United States to withdraw from New START and to begin building up the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This would neither advance U.S. national security interests nor increase U.S. negotiating leverage vis-à-vis Russia. Rather, such actions would lend credence to Putin’s cynical disinformation campaign about who carries blame for the breakdown of nuclear arms control, further escalate already high tensions with a dangerous Russia, and undoubtedly encourage China to ramp up its efforts to expand and diversify its nuclear arsenal and undermine the security of U.S. allies in Europe and Asia.
At the same time, we urge the Biden administration to go further and make it clear that, for the foreseeable future, the United States will not and need not increase the size of its current nuclear deployed strategic nuclear arsenal – an arsenal that already far exceeds in number and destructive capability what is necessary to hold a sufficient number of adversary military assets at risk to deter an enemy nuclear attack.
At last year’s ACA Annual meeting, President Biden wrote in a message: “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. In this time of intense geopolitical tension, arms control and nonproliferation diplomacy continues to be an essential part of safeguarding … global security.” We still wholeheartedly agree with this statement.
So long as the Russian war on Ukraine rages on, there will be a heightened risk of further nuclear threats from Russia. Going forward, we urge President Biden and his team to work with other responsible states, those with and without nuclear weapons, to push back and to reinforce the nuclear taboo against any and all nuclear threats, not just those issued by Russia in the context of its war on Ukraine.
Rather than attempt to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible nuclear threats, we encourage President Biden to reaffirm the statement he and other leaders (including Mr. Modi of India, Mr. Xi of China, and Mr. Kishida of Japan) issued at the G-20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia that: “nuclear weapons use and threats of use are inadmissable.” Because a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
U.S. leadership on nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament has always proven essential to reducing and eliminating the nuclear danger. With the danger of nuclear arms racing and nuclear war rising, President Biden, backed by Congress, must jumpstart nuclear disarmament diplomacy and push back on threats of nuclear weapons use. There is no more important responsibility for a U.S. president in the nuclear age.