New Technologies and the Future of Arms Control System

The United States’ withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 2019 threatens to dismantle the entire nuclear arms control system built over the last 50 years. It may lead to an uncontrolled multilateral arms race involving strategic, intermediate-range, tactical nuclear and non-nuclear offensive and defensive weapons. This dangerous turn of events is met with different attitude by different politicians and experts. One expanding school of thought postulates that the bipolar world of the Cold War era has given way to multipolarity, so bilateral nuclear weapons restrictions are no longer feasible. This assumption is supplemented by a hypothesis that it is impossible to control the newest weapons and military technologies using previous methods of negotiations and agreements, so those methods should also be abandoned. The focus should allegedly shift to various multilateral forums on creating an environment for nuclear disarmament and enhancing nuclear deterrence, transparency and predictability. Thus, the main premise is that the current arms control crisis is unavoidable and does not pose much danger: it is possible to do without formal nuclear arms reduction, limitation and non-proliferation agreements. However, scientific analysis demonstrates that the above assumptions about the advent of nuclear multipolarity and effects of new technologies are wrong. Firstly, despite deep reductions in nuclear weapons over the last 30 years, the proportion of those controlled by the two leading nuclear powers has barely declined at all, and the nuclear landscape remains largely bilateral. Secondly, the revolutionary impact of military technological progress is not something new, but is a logical phenomenon that has occurred regularly throughout history. Nonetheless, five decades of experience clearly demonstrated that arms control can be very successful, provided there is political will at the highest governments’ level to reach agreements on limitation and reduction of nuclear weapons. Like in the past, in the foreseeable future, arms control measures are able to substantially reduce the threat posed by innovative weapons systems. No doubt, arms control agreements do have their limits. But overall, despite certain gaps and failures, the arms control process has scored a number of historical victories during the past 50 years, and it should remain at the core of international security, even if many problems cannot be resolved quickly or all at once. Only the continuation of nuclear arms control can create political and military conditions for eventual limitations of many innovative weapons systems and technologies, as well as for a phased shift to a multilateral format of nuclear disarmament

Source: By Alexey Arbatov | World Economy and International Relations | vol. 64, no. 6, pp. 9-23.