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A world free of nuclear weapons would be wonderful.  Unfortunately, the reality of our current geopolitical environment simply doesn't support that at this point.  That said, we have made great strides in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the past few decades. There are still too many nuclear weapons in the world, but there are far less than during the Cold War.   In fact, there has been an 82% reduction since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty was enacted in 1970.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT) Treaty was followed by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 to eliminate intermediate- and shorter-range missiles (or those with ranges between 300 to 3,400 miles); the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev; and the New START Treaty, signed in 2010, again by the presidents of Russia and the United States, Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev.

This tremendous international progress is now under significant threat.  The Trump administration formally withdrew the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on August 2, 2019.  This is just one more example of Donald Trump's opposition to the rules-based international world order that has successfully governed peace, security, democracy and prosperity since World War. 

This could not have come at a worse time, and that was true even before Putin invaded Ukraine.

The United States’ 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the latest available, says, "The United States remains committed to its efforts in support of the ultimate global elimination of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.  It has reduced the nuclear stockpile by over 85 percent since the height of the Cold War and deployed no new nuclear capabilities for over two decades."  Read the entire report here.  But it continues with a more ominous tone:  "Nevertheless, global threat conditions have worsened markedly since the most recent 2010 NPR, including increasingly explicit nuclear threats from potential adversaries.  The United States now faces a more diverse and advanced nuclear-threat environment than ever before, with considerable dynamism in potential adversaries’ development and deployment programs for nuclear weapons and delivery systems."

To make matters even more dangerous, the threat of cyber-attacks, cyber-terrorism and cyber-espionage is increasing, which compromises command-and-control systems.  These attacks could create false alarms and cause hair trigger-type responses.


Okay, this is super scary stuff.  But these situations are where true leadership and skilled negotiation come into play.  This is a scenario that requires we remain calm and make smart decisions about how to move forward...not hyperventilate and just arbitrarily start pulling the United States out of proven treaties that have taken decades to cultivate.    


The latter approach is amateurish and reeks of fear.  It is dangerous, destabilizing and will put us ​squarely back in an unconstrained arms race.  There are still around 12,700 nuclear weapons in the world.  The last thing we need is more...especially if the number is increasing without international arms control agreements.  Plus, scaredy cat moves like this send a profoundly wrong message to aspiring nuclear states like North Korea and Iran. 


As we lead the world toward the global elimination of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, we must have a united coalition that penalizes proliferators and ensures multilateral enforcement of those penalties.  It is critical to remember that, although Russia is certainly a huge player in this game — roughly 90% of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States — the emerging threat of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapon attacks lies with proliferation, rogue nations, and terrorist organizations.  To not deal with this reality is simply not an option, and preventing this very real threat should be priority one in our dealings with the United Nations and other international bodies. 

Some short-sighted people may welcome a new arms race:  If Russia is not complying with existing treaties, we must need a bigger arsenal to scare them into submission, right?  That argument is absurd.  Our arsenal is already as big as Russia's, and the might of their military isn't even close to ours.  If Russia is not in compliance with existing treaties, size doesn't seem to have anything to do with it.

So, the choice is clear:  Are we going to allow those in power to simply withdraw from proven treaties like the INF, which will undoubtedly start an unconstrained, destabilizing arms race, or are we going to exercise true global leadership and hold other nations accountable for developing an intermediate-range missile called the DF-26 that threatens our naval forces and bases in the Pacific (China) or a ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the INF treaty called the SSC-8 (Russia)?  There are plenty of ways to hold others accountable and increase transparency, including restoring the extensive on-site inspection clause in the INF.



"Report of the United States of America Pursuant to Actions 5, 20, and 21 of the NPT Review Conference Final Document."  2015 Review Conference of the
   Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  New York City.  April 27 - May 22, 2015

United States.  Office of the Secretary of Defense.  "Nuclear Posture Review."  February 2018

"Providing for the Common Defense:  The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission."

United States.  "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community."  Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats.  13 Feb 2018

United States.  "Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community."  Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats.  29 Jan 2019

Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris.  "Status of World Nuclear Forces."  Federation of American Scientists.  11 Mar 2022

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