At the recent G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, President Joe Biden visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum alongside other world leaders. In the museum guestbook, the president vowed to strive toward a world free of nuclear weapons:
“May the stories of this Museum remind us all of our obligations to build a future of peace. Together let us continue to make progress toward the day when we can finally and forever rid the world of nuclear weapons. Keep the faith!”
President Biden’s sentiment was echoed on June. 2, when his national security advisor Jake Sullivan delivered a speech at the Arms Control Association’s annual meeting. In the speech, Sullivan said the United States is ready to engage in bilateral nuclear arms control talks with Russia and China.
This recommitment to nuclear diplomacy is a welcome sign. As U.S. tensions with Russia and China remain high, engaging with both nations on arms control is critical to reducing the risk of conflict.
Relations with Russia have Deteriorated, but Important Safeguards Continue to be Observed
The relationship between the United States and Russia has grown increasingly tumultuous since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Things worsened in February 2023, when Moscow suspended own compliance with the New START nuclear arms control treaty, the last remaining nuclear arms control pact between our nations.
Despite this troubling move, both countries have continued to comply with the treaty’s arms limits, restricting the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons. In his speech, Sullivan, confirmed that the White House has no intention of changing that—an important signal of willingness to remain in the treaty.
While the White House is moving in the right direction, the administration’s arm control goals face renewed challenges in Congress. Sen. Tom Cotton (AR) has introduced a new piece of legislation, the No START Treaty Act (S.1674), which rubber stamps an unconstrained arms race between the United States and Russia.
The legislation would:
- Express Congress’s support for withdrawal from the New START Treaty
- Require an assessment of U.S. nuclear forces and require a plan to further modernize and expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
- Place limitations on all future arms control agreements and U.S. nuclear policy reform efforts, making more sensible nuclear policy impossible to establish unless it meets strict guidelines.
The bill is an apparent attempt by more hawkish members of Congress to constrain current and future arms control objectives. While it’s unlikely that it would pass in the Senate, there is a concern that the bill’s language could be introduced as an amendment to this year’s annual military policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
There is no winning a nuclear arms race or a nuclear war. Withdrawing from the last major nuclear diplomacy treaty with Russia and encouraging a renewed arms race is irresponsible and dangerous. As Daryl Kimbal, executive director of the Arms Control Association, wrote:
“Such actions would lend credence to Putin’s cynical disinformation campaign about who carries blame for the breakdown of nuclear arms control, further escalate already high tensions with a dangerous Russia, and undoubtedly encourage China to ramp up its efforts to expand and diversify its nuclear arsenal.”
Instead, Congress and the administration must remain focused on the following objectives:
- Return the United States and Russia to full implementation of New START treaty obligations.
- Pursue negotiations for a new nuclear arms control arrangement to limit the size and scope of each country’s nuclear arsenals.
- Begin a strategic stability dialogue with China to define a stable nuclear arrangement between the United States, Russia, and China and freeze further nuclear arsenal growth.
With the danger of a nuclear arms race and nuclear war rising, President Biden, backed by Congress, must reestablish nuclear disarmament diplomacy and reinforce de-escalation efforts.
A world without nuclear arms control is much more dangerous and unstable. We all must do everything in our power to guard against the further degradation of nuclear arms control and prevent an unconstrained, costly global nuclear arms race.