A New Nuclear Arms Race Is A Real Possibility

Sarah Bidgood,

director of the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury’s Center for Nonproliferation Studies

History suggests the war in Ukraine could put an end to arms control as we know it

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has set in motion a catastrophic conflict in Europe. For the first time in decades, it has also brought fears of nuclear war back into the public consciousness. While this doomsday scenario remains unlikely, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling has increased the risk of escalation. Officials in Washington and across the West must now find ways to respond to Russia’s provocations without pushing the world closer to the nuclear brink.

The present crisis raises questions about the future of U.S.-Russia nuclear arms control. Could peering over the nuclear precipice drive Washington and Moscow back to the negotiating table? Or will it instead spell a return to Cold War-style arms racing, this time with new and more dangerous features?

The war in Ukraine has drawn comparisons to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which is often credited with jump-starting U.S.-Soviet arms control. Indeed, the five years from 1963 to 1968 were prodigious, yielding the Hot Line Agreement, the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And yet, the relationship between this crisis and the agreements that followed is more complex and less linear than it might initially seem. The historical record points to several important nuances that should inform our expectations today.

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Source: Foreignpolicy.com