Why US-Russian arms control can succeed even in a climate of confrontation

By Mikhail Troitskiy, March 9, 2020

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at a 2017 G20 meeting in Hamburg. Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at a 2017 G20 meeting in Hamburg.

The onset of a crisis in US-Russian and global arms control has generated manifold proposals on ways to rejuvenate productive negotiations on weapons cuts and confidence building measures. Yet most of these plans are focused on technical details while failing to capture the central role of politics – both domestic and international – in enabling arms control. More important, many observers overlook the fact that, historically, US-Russian arms control negotiations only yielded concrete results when the sides were clear about their mutual intentions. Those intentions did not need to be cooperative; they could well be adversarial (as was the case during much of the Cold War). But for arms control to work, they had to remain at a stable, tested, and predictable level, which was clearly not the case in the late-2010s. To expect US-Russian arms control to regain its lost momentum by itself and salvage the political relationship would be to misunderstand the sources and context of past achievements in bilateral arms control.

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