Will Nuclear Cuts Fall Victim to Tensions Over Ukraine?


At Global Security Newswire, Diane Barnes writes:

“The current political environment is anything but conducive” to achieving significant nuclear-arms curbs, according to the … “Deep Cuts Commission” … composed of 21 experts from Russia, the United States and Germany.

In fact

… the group of independent analysts and former officials asserted that mistrust between Russia and the United States over military maneuvers in Ukraine underscores a need for the two governments to jointly consider how they can reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange.

The commission

… advocated steps such as curbing the readiness of the former Cold War rivals’ nuclear weapons to fire on a moment’s notice, as well as reducing long-range warhead deployments beyond levels mandated by the 2011 New START agreement.

To clarify that last excerpt, by “fire on a moment’s notice,” Ms. Barnes means what’s more commonly known as “hair-trigger alert” or “launch on warning.” By “beyond levels mandated,” she clearly means “below levels mandated.” Meanwhile, the greatest danger, she writes, is

…that in the absence of new arms-control talks, Russia may increasingly rely on nuclear weapons to counterbalance Washington’s “growing technological edge” in the development of missile defense systems, conventional long-range strike capabilities and potential space-based weapons.

Ironic in light of how, after World War II, the United States was spurred to develop its large nuclear weapons program to counteract the size of the standing Russian army and the perceived peril it posed for Europe. Meanwhile, writes Ms. Barnes, besides reducing the number of warheads, the commission calls for

… for renewed efforts to develop trust on entrenched disputes over missile defense, nonstrategic nuclear arms and long-range conventional capabilities.

As Steven Pifer, a commission member and a Brookings Institution senior fellow, she quotes, said

“The value of such measures in putting tighter constraints on nuclear arms becomes all the more apparent in times of tension.”

’Twas ever thus: the greater the tension, the greater the need for dialogue, but the worse the climate for negotiations. However tall an order, both the United States and Russia need to summon the wisdom to separate out the subject of nuclear weapons and grant it an exemption from their joint enmity.