The U.S. and Russian governments have agreed to begin consultations on nuclear arms reductions. These two nuclear superpowers should work to prevent themselves from falling into an uncontrolled nuclear arms race.
The agreement was reached at a recent meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. Pompeo also agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to rebuild bilateral ties.
U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally declared in autumn 2018 that Washington would scrap the bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and Putin also decided to pull his country out of the pact, shaking up the U.S. and Russian nuclear arms control system. It is welcome news that Washington and Moscow have agreed to work on arms reductions once again.
Specifically, the two countries have agreed to negotiate an extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which expires in February 2021. Washington and Moscow are set to establish a working-level panel to discuss the issue.
The pact limits the number of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads that can be carried on intercontinental ballistic missiles and other vehicles to 1,550 each. Both countries claim that they have achieved this goal.
However, if this treaty were to expire following the INF Treaty’s expiration this coming August, the United States and Russia would lose all frameworks for nuclear arms control, which could be an excuse for nuclear arms expansion. The two nuclear superpowers should ensure that the New START agreement is extended and strive to further reduce their nuclear arms.
In realistically considering nuclear arms reductions, a key challenge is how to ensure deterrence against short- and intermediate-range nuclear forces.
The United States and Russia are moving ahead with the development and deployment of nuclear-capable cruise missiles and short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Concerns remain that the expiration of the INF Treaty could lead to uncontrolled deployment of these weapons.
In the latest talks, Pompeo proposed more extensive arms reductions in addition to the extension of the New START. Russia is poised to prioritize the extension of this pact.
The United States has displayed enthusiasm about developing a multilateral arms reduction treaty that will include China, which has deployed anti-ship ballistic missiles capable of preventing U.S. aircraft carriers from approaching Chinese forces.
Beijing has expressed its reluctance to participate in such a treaty, but arms reduction talks involving China will eventually be necessary. Unless China participates in such a nuclear arms reduction framework, U.S. and Russian efforts to reduce nuclear weapons could be stagnant.
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which is an international framework for nuclear disarmament, lists five countries — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — as nuclear powers, while obligating them to reduce their nuclear arsenal.
Failure to work out a rough draft of measures to strengthen the NPT at the recent preparatory panel meeting is partly attributable to non-nuclear powers’ protests against nuclear powers that have failed to make progress in arms reductions.
The responsibility of the United States and Russia, which possess over 90% of nuclear weapons in the world, is enormous.