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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
Daryl Kimball

If a Nuclear War Must Never Be Fought, Then What?


July/August 2021
By Daryl G. Kimball

After more than a decade of rising tensions and growing nuclear competition between the two largest nuclear-weapon states, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at their June 16 summit to engage in a robust “strategic stability” dialogue to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Joe Biden prior to the US-Russia summit at the Villa La Grange, in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)Just as importantly, the two men also reaffirmed the commonsense principle, agreed on by U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

The summit communiqué, albeit modest and overdue, is a vital recognition that the status quo is dangerous and unsustainable. It is a chance for a course correction that moves the world further from the brink of nuclear catastrophe.

Now, each side must walk the talk. The first step is promptly beginning a robust, bilateral, results-oriented nuclear risk reduction and disarmament dialogue. With the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the last remaining bilateral nuclear arms control agreement, expiring in 2026, there is little time to negotiate new arrangements necessary to further reduce the bloated U.S. and Russian strategic and nonstrategic nuclear stockpiles.

Second, if the two presidents are serious about nuclear wars being unwinnable, they need to formally declare that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter or respond only to a nuclear attack, not non-nuclear threats. Once a nuclear weapon is used first by design, accident, or inadvertence, there is no guarantee that all-out nuclear war can be averted. Given the catastrophic effects of even limited nuclear use, neither side would be the winner.

Unfortunately, current Russian and U.S. nuclear use doctrines suggest that each side believes regional nuclear wars can be fought and won because such wars somehow can be kept limited.

In its 2020 iteration of policy, Russia “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons…in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” Whether Russia might contemplate an even lower threshold for use in a regional conflict has been the subject of much debate.

In 2018, the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) expanded the “extreme circumstances” under which the United States would contemplate first use of nuclear weapons to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” The document
says “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” could include chemical and biological attacks, large-scale conventional aggression, and cyberattacks.

These U.S. and Russian nuclear use policies are far too permissive and risky and must change. In a March 2020 Foreign Affairs essay, Biden said, “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, Biden must put those words into practice.

Third, if a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought, the United States and Russia should not be expanding their capabilities to fight and prevail in such a war.

Russia has an obscene arsenal of some 1,500–2,000, lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons, and the United States believes this arsenal is poised to grow in the years ahead. The Trump administration meanwhile proposed to double the types of lower-yield nuclear options in the U.S. arsenal.

Even though Biden, as a presidential candidate, said “[t]he United States does not need new nuclear weapons,” his fiscal year 2022 budget proposes funding for a new nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile,
one of the two new low-yield options pursued by Trump to provide additional strike options in a regional war.

Another way in which the “nuclear war cannot be won” statement can serve as a steppingstone to global risk reduction would be for all five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5) to support that principle. At a P5 meeting last year, China proposed a joint statement along these lines, but the United States vetoed the idea. Shortly before the Biden-Putin summit, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi revived the proposal.

When the Security Council’s permanent members meet in France later this year on nuclear matters, it should endorse the Biden-Putin statement to signal a shared interest in avoiding nuclear war and agree to launch an expanded set of talks on nuclear risk reduction and arms control. In addition, Washington and Beijing could launch their own bilateral strategic stability dialogue to explore practical ideas for heading off destabilizing nuclear competition.

Luckily, nuclear weapons have not been used in combat since the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But someday, our collective luck is certain to run out, with catastrophic consequences, unless the leaders of the world’s nuclear-armed states act now to forestall a new nuclear arms race and rediscover the path to a world free of nuclear weapons.

After more than a decade of rising tensions and growing nuclear competition between the two largest nuclear-weapon states, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at their June 16 summit to engage in a robust “strategic stability” dialogue to “lay the groundwork for future arms control and risk reduction measures.”

National Security Experts, Former Officials, Diplomats Urge Senate Approval of Key Biden Nominee

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For Immediate Release: June 21, 2021

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association (202-463-8270 ext. 107).

(Washington, D.C.)—Earlier today a distinguished, bipartisan group of more than 65 international security experts and former officials delivered an open letter to all 100 U.S. Senate offices in support of a key Biden administration nominee, Amb. Bonnie Jenkins for the position of Undersecretary of State for Intl. Security and Arms Control.

The letter says, in part:

"As arms control, international security, and foreign policy experts with years of experience in and out of government, we believe President Joe Biden — or any president — needs a strong and experienced team in place to address issues of international security, particularly the difficult and urgent challenges posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the countries that possess them or that could develop them.

Five months since inauguration day, the president’s nominee for one of the most important positions in this area — Amb. Bonnie Jenkins for Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security — has yet to be confirmed. Further delays of this nomination will hamper our nation’s ability to put its best diplomatic foot forward at a critical time."

The Jenkins nomination was announced Feb. 1. Her nomination hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was held April 28 and her nomination was voted out of the committee favorably May 19.

Among the signers of the letter of support for Amb. Jenkins' nomination are several senior officials who have served in Democratic and Republican administrations. Jenkins, the signers write, “ … has a comprehensive understanding of weapons-related security issues and is a very experienced international diplomat. We respectfully urge the swift confirmation by the Senate of the Jenkins nomination.”

As President Biden's Interim National Security Strategy notes: "Global dynamics have shifted. New crises demand our attention.” It is a "moment of accelerating global challenges — from the pandemic to the climate crisis to nuclear proliferation.” The signatories on the letter note

"This means that our nation has no time to lose when it comes to putting in place the leadership team in government that can harness America's diplomatic power, which is essential to advancing effective solutions to address the most difficult security and foreign policy challenges.”

The full text of the open letter and the complete list of signers is attached below. It is also available in PDF format.


Open Letter in Support of Amb. Bonnie Jenkins to Help Lead
U.S. Efforts on Arms Control and International Security

June 21, 2021

As President Biden's Interim National Security Strategy notes: "Global dynamics have shifted. New crises demand our attention.” It is a "moment of accelerating global challenges—from the pandemic to the climate crisis to nuclear proliferation .…"

This means that our nation has no time to lose when it comes to putting in place the leadership team in government that can harness America's diplomatic power, which is essential to advancing effective solutions to address the most difficult security and foreign policy challenges.

As arms control, international security, and foreign policy experts with years of experience in and out of government, we believe President Joe Biden—or any president—needs a strong and experienced team in place to address issues of international security, particularly the difficult and urgent challenges posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the countries that possess them or that could develop them.

Five months since inauguration day, the president’s nominee for one of the most important positions in this area—Amb. Bonnie Jenkins for Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security—has yet to be confirmed. Further delays of this nomination will hamper our nation’s ability to put its best diplomatic foot forward at a critical time.

In the coming weeks and months, her leadership will be important to help the State Department and the White House:

  • follow up on the June 16 Biden-Putin summit by launching strategic stability talks with Russia to put the relationship on a more predictable footing and to reduce the risk of conflict,
  • open new diplomatic channels that bring China and its nuclear arsenal into the arms control process,
  • backstop talks designed to rein-in North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear ambitions,
  • strengthen international support for the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the pivotal 10th Review Conference,
  • build international nuclear security cooperation to prevent terrorist groups from acquiring or using fissile and radiological materials,
  • bolster international biosecurity cooperation through the G7 Global Partnership and the November Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference to reduce the risk of illicit bioweapons use and to reduce the risk that dangerous pathogens escape biolabs, among other challenges and,
  • strengthen both U.S. and multilateral efforts to further strengthen the norms against the use of chemical weapons.

We also recognize the important role Amb. Jenkins will play on positions the U.S government is developing in other areas of international security, including arms sales and the effort to put human rights at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy.

We have known and worked with Amb. Jenkins, in some cases for decades. She has a comprehensive understanding of weapons-related security issues and is a very experienced international diplomat. She served as Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, was the State Department lead on the Nuclear Security Summits, the U.S. Representative to G7 Global Partnership, helped lead diplomatic efforts on the Global Health Security Agenda, and was nominated for the 2016 Secretary of State's Award for Excellence in International Security Affairs.

Amb. Jenkins’ experience ranges from government service where she helped negotiate, seek advice and consent, and implement arms control and nonproliferation agreements as an international treaty lawyer, to the non-governmental sector, including establishing and leading a groundbreaking non-governmental organization, Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security and its many related initiatives, to military service as a retired Naval Reserve officer called up to Active Duty on the Global War on Terrorism, to Congressional Commissions, including the 9/11 Commission.

With a Ph.D. in international relations, Amb. Jenkins has a strong record of scholarship and engagement with the academic and policy communities and has shown exemplary leadership in advancing new voices and diverse leadership in the fields of international security.

We respectfully urge the swift confirmation by the Senate of the Jenkins nomination.

Sincerely,

James Acton, Co-Director, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for Intl. Peace*
Andrew Albertson, Executive Director, Foreign Policy for America*
Daniel Baer, former U.S. Amb. to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*
Frederick Beinecke, Vice President & Chair, Nuclear Disarmament & Nonproliferation Program, Prospect Hill Foundation
Emma Belcher, President, Ploughshares Fund
John Beyrle, U.S. Ambassador to Russia (2008-12), Chairman, U.S.-Russia Foundation*
Jeremy Ben-Ami, President, J Street*
Reuben Brigety, former U.S. Amb. to the U.S. Mission to the African Union
Kenneth Brill, former U.S. Amb. to the IAEA (2001-04), founding Director of the U.S. National Counterproliferation Center (2005-09), and Board Member of the American Academy of Diplomacy
Rachel Bronson, President and CEO, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists*
Lauren Buitta, Founder and CEO, Girl Security
Matthew Bunn, James R. Schlesinger Professor of the Practice of Energy, National Security, and Foreign Policy, Harvard Kennedy School of Government*
Susan F. Burk, former Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, and head of the U.S. delegation for the 2010 NPT Review Conference
Johnnie Carson, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
Jeff Carter, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility*
Rebecca Bill Chavez, Senior Fellow, Inter-American Dialogue*
Joseph Cirincione, Distinguished Fellow, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft*
James F. Collins, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, (1997-2001), and Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*
Pierce Corden, Expert Adviser, Holy See Mission to the United Nations
Peter Crail, former senior advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Business Executives for International Security*
Madelyn Creedon, President, Green Marble Group, former principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (2014-17), and assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs from (2011-14)
Richard Cupitt, Senior Fellow, Henry L. Stimson Center,* and former U.S. Special Coordinator for UN Security Resolution 1540 (2004)
Mary Curtin, Diplomat in Residence, Humphrey School of Public Affairs*
Toby Dalton, Co-Director, Nuclear Policy Program, Carnegie Endowment for Intl. Peace*
Ruth Davis, Amb. (ret.), Association of Black American Ambassadors, and former Director-General of the United States Foreign Service
Edwin Dorn, Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas*
Jill Dougherty, Adjunct Fellow, Georgetown University*
Tara Drozdenko, physical scientist formerly with the Arms Control Verification and Compliance Bureau, U.S. Department of State
Stephanie Foster, Co-Founder and Partner, Smash Strategies,* and former senior advisor, Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, U.S. Department of State
Robert Gelbard, President, Gelbard International Consulting*
Rose Gottemoeller, former Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security, U.S. Department of State
Thomas Graham, Jr., Amb. (ret.) and former U.S. nonproliferation and arms control diplomat, and Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors Lightbridge Corporation*
Jonathan Granoff, President, Global Security Institute*
Morton Halperin, Director of U.S. advocacy at the Open Society Institute, and former senior director for democracy at the National Security Council, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Johnson administration, and as a senior staff member of the National Security Council during the Nixon and Clinton administrations
Anne Harrington, former Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, National Nuclear Security Administration (2010-17)
Mark Harris, Co-founder, Inclusive America*
Newell Highsmith, former Deputy Legal Advisor, U.S. Department of State
James Jeffrey, Amb. (ret.), with assignments including U.S. Amb. to Iraq (2010–12); Amb. to Turkey (2008–10); Deputy National Security Advisor (2007–08); and Amb. to (2002–04)
Lionel C. Johnson, Chairman, Foreign Policy for America
Laura Kennedy, former U.S. Amb. to Turkmenistan (2001-03), former U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, and Special Representative for Biological Weapons Convention Issues (2010-13)
Duyeon Kim, Adjunct Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security*
Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, publisher and editorial contributor, Arms Control Today
Susan Koch, former Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary for Arms Control, 2005-07; NSC Staff Director for Proliferation Strategy, 2001-05; Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Threat Reduction Policy, 1994-2001; Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, NSC Staff, 1991-93; and Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Assistant Director, Strategic and Nuclear Affairs, 1990-91
Sara Kutchesfahani, Director, N Square DC Hub
Valerie Lincy, Executive Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control
Alexandria Maloney, Board Member, Black Professionals in International Affairs*
David Mathews, President and CEO, Kettering Foundation*
Kenneth Meyers, President, CRDF Global*
Steven Miller, International Security Program, Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School*
Silvia Mishra, New Tech Officer, European Leadership Network*
J.P. Natkin, Managing Director, Macro-Advisory Ltd.
Nancy Parrish, Executive Director, Women’s Action for New Directions
William Potter, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey*
Matthew Rojansky, U.S. Executive Secretary, U.S.-Russia Dartmouth Conference*
Amy Sands, Emerita Staff, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey*
Theodore Sedgwick, former U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic (2010-15)
Andrew Semmel, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nuclear Nonproliferation (2003-07), Partnership for a Secure America*
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning, U.S. Department of State (2009-11), CEO of New America
Shalonda Spencer, Executive Director, Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security*
Donald Steinberg, Board Co-Chair, Women’s Refugee Commission*
Philip Stewart, Senior Associate, Kettering Foundation,* and Director of the U.S.-Russia Dartmouth Conference*
Alexandra Toma, Executive Director, Peace and Security Funders Group*
Jenny Town, Senior Fellow, Henry L. Stimson Center*
David Wade, U.S. State Department, Chief of Staff (2013-15), and Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace*
Paul Walker, Coordinator, Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition,* and former professional staff member, House Armed Services Committee
Taylor Winkleman, International Affairs Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations*
Alexander Vershbow, former Deputy Secretary-General of NATO, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea (2005-08), U.S. Amb. to the Russian Federation (2001-05), and U.S. Amb. to NATO (1997-2001)
Peter Zwack, Brigadier Gen. (ret.), Wilson Center Global Fellow at the Kennan Institute*


*Institution listed for identification purposes only

Description: 

A bipartisan group of international security experts and former officials delivered an open letter to all U.S. Senate offices in support of a key Biden administration nominee.

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