America and Russia May Find Themselves in a Nuclear Arms Race Once Again

    Richard Burt, Jon Wolfsthal

    Security, Europe

    A missile of an anti-aircraft defence mobile missile system is seen in front of a missile launched from S-300 antiaircraft system during the Keys to the Sky competition at the International Army Games 2017 at the Ashuluk shooting range outside Astrakhan, Russia

    Despite the Trump administration’s decision to treat it as an afterthought, arms control is not dead.

    Upon entering office last January, President Donald Trump asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis to prepare a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that would lay out the Trump administration’s nuclear strategy. The document will soon be released, and while claiming to seek a world where nuclear weapons use is less likely, the review’s recommendations would actually expand the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons. The draft NPR also seeks to add two new nuclear weapons to the American arsenal and would significantly lower the threshold for nuclear use. Sadly, the document gives short shrift to the need to revitalize the moribund arms control and reduction process, ignoring the best means the United States has to shape the strategic landscape and reduce the nuclear dangers that pose the greatest threats to us and our allies. For all if its complications, direct arms reduction engagement offers the best hope of heading off another disastrous cycle of nuclear one-upmanship between Washington and Moscow.

    While not yet released to the public, a draft of the all but complete Posture Review was leaked to the press last week. Much of the document rightly focused on enhancing deterrence with Russia and making clear to Moscow—and North Korea—that any decision to use nuclear weapons would bring about severe consequences to the attacker. These are sound policies and should be welcomed by members of both parties. By making clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies is unacceptable and would thus require a severe reaction, the document starts squarely in the mainstream of nuclear strategy and policy.

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