Arms control as a method of security makes a lot of sense on many different levels.
It seeks to secure the United States and other countries by ensuring there are fewer dangerous weapons in the world. The concept is a win for our country and other countries. However, we’ve seen a backsliding in the field of arms control under the Donald Trump administration, as he withdrew from a number of arms control pacts. The whole aura of Trumpism seems to be hostile to internationalism in any form. However, it must be added that there were mistakes made under Obama, Bush and Clinton as well.
The incoming Joe Biden administration will face many challenges on how to reboot arms control as a method of security. The first step will be to renew the New Start Treaty with Russia, as it expires Feb. 5. The extension will only be the first step in the long process of bringing back arms control. The treaty should be negotiated in a way to bring the levels of nuclear arms in the world down even further. The original treaty set a limit of 1,550 nuclear warheads for both the United States and Russia. A new limit of 1,000 should be set. The original deployed launcher limit was 700. This limit should be lowered as well.
The number of warheads in storage should also be a point of negotiation. Right now, Russia has 3,000 warheads in storage and the United States has 2,400. Russia’s lead in storage could create regional instability. Therefore, negotiations should bring the number of stored missiles down on all sides.
The weakening of arms control when it comes to midrange missiles is also a concern. European countries are worried about the United States withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This opens the way for Russian mid-range missile deployments, as stated by Hans Binnendijk in his story “How Biden Can Reenergize Strategic Arms Control.” This makes deep cuts in stored warheads necessary because the number of weapons are driving the insecurity.
To realize these reductions, negotiators will need to tackle the issue of Russia and the United States retaining a second-strike retaliatory capability. The United States abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 in the George W. Bush administration. Our country is considering options for a hypersonic conventional-prompt global strike capability. The story only grows worse. Russia fears the superiority of U.S. defense systems gives the United States the ability to strike first. So, it is developing six new delivery systems designed to defeat U.S. defenses, including a deployed hypersonic glide vehicle (Avangard), a nuclear-powered cruise missile (Skyfall) and a hypersonic cruise missile (Tsirkon). Decisions on the part of both countries are leading to a less stable world.
A second ABM Treaty is nice but given the state of American politics, it is unlikely. However, both the United States and Russia could agree to limits on ABM missiles. Such was the case with the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty.
Binnenjijk also recommends returning to elements of the INF Treaty; maybe this could be a part of the renewal of New Start. One option is banning all intermediate-range (500-5,500 kilometers), ground-based missiles that are armed with nuclear warheads.
The issue of China always comes up when discussing arms control. The country does possess nuclear weapons, but Russia and the United States have 90 percent of the world’s arsenal. A wonderful demand in the renewal of New Start would be pressing China to freeze its current arsenal if the United States and Russia can keep demands of the treaty.
Will a Biden administration succeed in the field of arms control? If it does, then we might be able to use freed up funds to build affordable housing, fund new infrastructure, expand pandemic relief, and fund research and development. Building an internally better America will help us in the geopolitical struggle against authoritarian and totalitarian countries. I guess the internal politics of our country will write the story that will mean success or failure.
executive director of Peace Economy Project