In each month's issue of Arms Control Today, executive director Daryl Kimball provides an editorial perspective on a critical arms control issue.
Fifty years ago, shortly after the conclusion of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States and the Soviet Union launched the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). Negotiated in the midst of severe tensions, the SALT agreement and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty were the first restrictions on the superpowers’ massive strategic offensive weapons, as well as on their emerging strategic defensive systems. The SALT agreement and the ABM Treaty slowed the arms race and opened a period of U.S.-Soviet detente that lessened the threat of nuclear war.
Every U.S. president since John Kennedy has successfully concluded at least one agreement with Russia or the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear dangers. These agreements have helped to slash nuclear stockpiles, manage nuclear competition, and provide greater stability, thereby reducing the risk of nuclear catastrophe between the world’s two largest nuclear actors.
Next month, it is very likely the Trump administration will take the next step toward fulfilling the president’s threat to “terminate” one of the most far-reaching and most successful nuclear arms reduction agreements: the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which led to the verifiable elimination of 2,692 Soviet and U.S. missiles based in Europe.
Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “[t]he Cold War is back...but with a difference. The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present.”
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump told reporters that he wanted to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin “to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control.” He characterized the costly nuclear weapons upgrade programs being pursued by each side as “a very, very bad policy.”
Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove” delivers an eerily accurate depiction of the absurd logic and catastrophic risks of U.S. and Russian Cold War nuclear deterrence strategy, but for one key detail: President Merkin Muffley was wrong when he said, “It is the avowed policy of our country never to strike first with nuclear weapons.” But it should be.
Five long years have passed since U.S. President Barack Obama proposed and Russian President Vladimir Putin unfortunately rejected negotiations designed to cut their excessive nuclear stockpiles by one-third below the limits set by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).
The historic if brief encounter on June 12 between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides a hopeful starting point for the lengthy and arduous process of negotiating the details of denuclearization and the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean peninsula.
The global nuclear nonproliferation system has always relied on responsible leadership from the United States and other global powers.
For most of the past year, North Korea’s provocative long-range missile launches and a high-yield nuclear test, combined with the reckless threats of “fire and fury” and “preventive war” from the U.S. White House, have raised tensions and increased the threat of a catastrophic conflict in the region.
One year into the unorthodox presidency of Donald Trump, the United States faces an array of complex and dangerous foreign policy challenges that require principled leadership, pragmatism, patience, and smart diplomacy.
Since the beginning of the nuclear age, the United States has played a leadership role in global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament diplomacy to help advance U.S. and international security.
Over the past year, cavalier and reckless statements from President Donald Trump about nuclear weapons and his threat to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea have heightened fears about Cold War-era policies and procedures that put the authority to launch nuclear weapons in his hands alone.
The nuclear danger posed by North Korea is not new. But as Trump readies for a trip to East Asia, the crisis enters a critical phase.