Can the U.S. and Russia Find a Path Forward on Arms Control?

How to Prevent a Dangerous Escalation

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 2017.  Carlos Barria / REUTERS

U.S.-Russian relations are at their lowest point in decades, with huge implications for the future of arms control and nonproliferation. Should the situation deteriorate even further, Washington and Moscow could soon be on the brink of a direct confrontation or even a nuclear escalation. The Soviet Union and the United States were long able to avoid a nuclear war by negotiating a set of political agreements and treaties that kept military escalation under control. Unfortunately, the arms control regime that those agreements helped build is on the verge of complete collapse.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which placed limits on missile defense, and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which limited the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery guns, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters used on the continent, are dead. Meanwhile, the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which bans ground-launched cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500–5,500 kilometers (310–3,400 miles), is in big trouble, with both sides accusing each other of violations.

If the INF treaty, a cornerstone of European security, collapses, the New START treaty signed between then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and then U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010 will not be able to survive on its own. The agreement, which reduced the number of strategic nuclear weapons to 700 deployed launchers and 1,550 warheads, would then expire on February 5, 2021, without prolongation. Should this come to pass, the multipolar international system will be thrown into chaos.

To prevent a disastrous clash, the two countries need to maintain and strengthen the arms-control safety net. That’s why it’s necessary to resume a Russian-U.S. dialogue that will lead to official negotiations. For now, the agenda should be narrow, prioritizing three key issues: the preservation of the INF Treaty, the prolongation of the New START treaty, and the prevention of dangerous military accidents.


At present, the INF Treaty is in danger of collapsing because of accusations of violation on both sides. Addressing these

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