Outdated nuclear treaties increase the risk of nuclear war

US nuclear deterrence policy and US nuclear arms control policy have dangerously diverged.

Long-standing deterrence policies require the US to have sufficient capabilities to target what potential enemy leaders value most. Arms control is designed to increase deterrence by limiting and, where possible, reducing threats while allowing the US to deploy a force that deters an attack on America or our allies. The policies were closely linked during the final decades of the Cold War, providing a credible deterrent to the US and its allies, and leading to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties known as Start 1 and Start 2, which were signed and reduced in 1991 and 1993, respectively the status of the strategic nuclear weapons of the USA and the Soviet Union.

Today, the US is bound by the New Start Treaty, an agreement signed in 2010 at a time when Russia was seen more as a competitor than a threat and China was hardly a factor. The world is different now: darker, more dangerous and getting worse.

The Biden administration’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance 2021 clearly states that “Both Beijing and Moscow have invested heavily in efforts aimed at reviewing US strengths and preventing us from protecting our interests and allies on the ground.” around the world,” describing China as “increasingly assertive” and Russia as “destabilizing.” That was before the invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling.

New Start limits the US and Russia to 1,550 accountable traditional strategic nuclear weapons each. Since the treaty was signed, Russia has deployed between 2,000 and 2,500 modern, shorter-range nuclear systems — the weapons Mr Putin would use for a nuclear escalation in Ukraine. New Start does not limit these, nor does it cover “non-traditional” strategic nuclear weapons, such as the Poseidon transoceanic nuclear torpedo, which Russia also possesses.

Meanwhile, China’s nuclear arsenal has grown significantly and is expected to grow much larger. In 2011, Beijing was estimated to have about 20 ICBMs with a warhead, another about 100 shorter-range nuclear missiles, and no operational ballistic missile submarines. Today, Beijing has nearly 100 ICBMs, many carrying multiple warheads and some road-mobile, and is building silos for several hundred more. The Chinese Navy has six ballistic missile submarines, and the Chinese Air Force is equipping long-range bombers with an innovative air-to-surface ballistic missile. A large and growing force of short- and medium-range nuclear-capable missiles supports China’s strategic nuclear forces.

Simple logic and arithmetic makes it clear that the 1,550 warhead cap agreed in 2010 is insufficient to cope with the growth of Russia’s strategic and non-strategic nuclear forces, let alone the huge increase in China’s nuclear arsenal. Because effective deterrence must target what potential enemy leaders value, we must be able to threaten both Russia and China’s key assets, individually and in combination — including their leaders’ ability to command and control the state, their armed forces and the industrial potential to withstand war. New Start limits US forces to a level required to achieve this in the near future. Arms control undermines them instead of increasing our deterrent capability.

Fortunately, as the modernization of the US military finally begins to generate new forces, Washington is in a position to rearrange the table, as it did in the 1980s when the Reagan administration began its modernization efforts for the nuclear triad started.

To do so, however, the Biden administration must acknowledge some new realities. New Start’s numerical cap will not serve US national security interests in a world with two nuclear peer states as potential enemies – a first in the nuclear age. Due to the growth of Russia’s shorter-range nuclear forces over the past 10 years, New Start no longer serves US security interests, even in a US-Russia bilateral context.

The US government should give a year’s notice of US intentions to exit the treaty to safeguard US national interests. This in turn offers two alternatives:

If the US-Russian arms control dialogue survives Putin’s invasion of Ukraine — a big if — and assuming Putin doesn’t detonate a nuclear weapon, the government could propose a new US-Russian treaty capped at 3,000 to a total of 3,500 nuclear weapons for each side. This would limit threats to our allies and our homeland, and also allow for a strategic US nuclear capability that would deter both Russia and China. (Including China in a trilateral nuclear arms control agreement is unrealistic. China has declined to participate in such talks, as well as the transparency and verification essential to a successful treaty.)

If a new arms control dialogue is not politically acceptable, the Biden administration should exit New Start after a year and begin building force strength from 3,000 to 3,500 to maintain a credible deterrent against Moscow and Beijing. Many members of the western arms control community would complain about a “new arms race”.

But as former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has pointed out, that race is already underway; the US just doesn’t work. Russia and China have been building out their new nuclear systems for a decade, while the first products from the US triad modernization program won’t be deployed until the mid-2020s. Critics will argue that raising the 1,550 level sends the wrong signal – but continuing to turn a blind eye to the non-traditional, shorter-range Russian systems sends a far worse signal.

Eventually, critics will claim that these moves will harm arms control. But arms control is not an end in itself; it is a means of improving stability. The significant US and Russian strategic arms reductions in 1989-1992 and again in 2002 were not designed to create arms reductions for the sake of reductions, but were justified by what the US believed we needed to address the threats of the time scare off. Times and threats have changed, and our first responsibility must be to ensure we can counter both today’s and tomorrow’s threats.

Mr. Miller served for three decades as senior nuclear policy and arms control official on the Pentagon and on the National Security Council staff.

Wonderland: NATO can’t quarantine Putin in Ukraine He and other opponents of the West have been trying to weaken and replace us for years. Images: Getty Images/KCNA via KNS/AFP/AP Composite: Mark Kelly

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