How to Calm Today’s Nuclear Hysteria

Vladimir Dvorkin, Chairman of the Organizing Committee, International Luxembourg Forum; Principal Researcher at the Center for International Security, IMEMO RAS

It’s practically impossible to overlook the recent drumbeat of inflammatory Russian and Western statements about nuclear policy. In June 2015, when Russian President Vladimir Putin played up a long-planned deployment of 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, he drew an immediate reaction from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said, “This nuclear sabre rattling of Russia is unjustified. It’s destabilizing and it’s dangerous.”

The war of words has embroiled Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, who maladroitly asserted that if Copenhagen joined a U.S.-led missile defense system, Danish warships would become targets for Russian nuclear missiles. And it has even drawn in U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who has made pointed statements about possible U.S. responses to alleged Russian cheating on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. In a follow-up to his Senate confirmation hearing in February 2015, the Pentagon chief wrote, “The range of options we should look at from the Defense Department could include active defenses to counter intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missiles; counterforce capabilities to prevent intermediate-range ground-launched cruise missile attacks; and countervailing strike capabilities to enhance U.S. or allied forces.” Carter’s bottom line was crisp yet ominous: “U.S. responses must make clear to Russia that if it does not return to compliance our responses will make them less secure than they are today.”

Against the backdrop of a sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations, finding a way to moderate current nuclear tensions is a tall order.