4 July 2017

Amid high tensions, an urgent need for nuclear restraint

With tensions running high between the United States and Russia, North Korea conducting nuclear tests, and every nuclear-armed nation modernizing its arsenal, the world seems headed toward greater nuclear instability. Changing course will not be easy, and progress must begin with serious bilateral confidence-building, arms control, and disarmament efforts by Russia and the United States. But the two sides have expressed clearly divergent nuclear priorities in recent years, even as the danger of military escalation has increased. Meanwhile, the multilateral nonproliferation regime seems to be splitting into polarized camps, characterized by starkly differing views on the value, role, and risks of nuclear weapons. In such an environment, leaders can demonstrate prudence and restraint by working toward a universal no-first-use norm, conducting dialogue on de-alerting nuclear weapons, and developing effective verification procedures for decommissioning and destroying nuclear warheads. In the long run, the United States and Russia can still aim for a grand bargain on arsenal reductions. In the meantime, they and the other recognized nuclear weapon states can explore whether strategic stability can someday be maintained through means other than nuclear weapons – for example, through frameworks of cooperative alliances or weapons systems of the future. Read this article in the July/August issue of our subscription journal.