Nuclear Perils in a New Era


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Steven E. Miller and Alexey Arbatov
Promoting Dialogue on Arms Control and Disarmament


Prominent voices in both Russia and the United States warn that the danger of nuclear war is again growing. Their concern stems from a complex and accelerating set of developments. Technological advances are calling into question the assumptions that once underpinned the concept of strategic stability between nuclear adversaries. Conventional weapons capable of missions previously reserved to nuclear weapons are blurring the lines between conventional and nuclear war. Cyber and other facets of space warfare are opening whole new frontiers of nuclear risk. The effort to defend against some aspects of the nuclear peril by building missile defense systems in Russia, the United States, China, and India may stir a nuclear arms race dynamic pitting ever-improving offensive weapons against evermore ambitious defensive systems. While Russia and the United States press forward with the modernization of all aspects of their nuclear forces, they are joined by China, India, and Pakistan as they fashion their own triad of nuclear forces on land, in the air, and at sea, creating a matrix of competing nuclear relationships far more complex than the two-sided competition during the Cold War. And all of this is happening at a time of seriously deteriorated relations between Russia and the United States, accompanied by the crumbling of the strategic nuclear arms control regime constructed over the last half century.

Thus, leaders and the policy-making community in both countries are making decisions about the nuclear forces they wish to have, the missions they plan to assign them, and what, if anything, arms control can contribute to national security in an increasingly fraught and daunting environment. Decision-making in this environment requires a broad perspective—one alert to what the long experience of U.S. and Russian efforts to manage nuclear weapons has entailed, the lessons it holds, and the challenges that it underscores. In this publication, two authors—one Russian, the other American—review that history and use it to illuminate the gravity of the decisions currently facing policy-makers in their two countries. Although comparable in their scope and level of concern, the two essays were independently written, and earlier versions were published under different auspices. Alexey Arbatov’s article, “Mad Momentum Redux? The Rise and Fall of Nuclear Arms Control,” first appeared in the June-July 2019 issue of Survival. Steven E. Miller’s essay, “The Rise and Decline of Global Nuclear Order?” was included in an occasional paper published as part of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ project “Meeting the Challenges of the New Nuclear Age.”

We believe that together these essays provide the background and context vital to the choices that the leadership in our two countries will make as they seek to enhance each nation’s national security in a rapidly changing, complex, and potentially perilous nuclear environment.

Funding for this publication has been provided by generous support from The Raymond Frankel Foundation.

Alexander Sergeev

Russian Academy of Sciences

David W. Oxtoby

American Academy of Arts and Sciences