Nuclear Strategic Stability & Arms Control in the 21st Century

By Christine Parthemore

Last week the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) published a briefer by our colleague, Rear Admiral John Gower, CB OBE, titled “Improving Nuclear Strategic Stability Through a Responsibility-Based Approach: A Platform for 21st Century Arms Control.”

Gower paints a daunting and accurate picture of nuclear affairs today, with a new arms racing beginning and risks of miscalculation rising. As he writes, “We face within 5 years, for the first time since the mid-1970s, a world without formal arms control agreements, either nuclear or conventional, between Russia and the United States.”

Beyond characterizing the challenges our countries face, Gower offers a new platform for what nuclear weapon-capable states should do to reverse these trends. First, he offers a new definition for nuclear strategic stability. This is an important step; our conversations with NATO/European and Asian allies in recent months revealed a strong interest in developing a common understanding of strategic stability that accounts for current dynamics, including today’s multipolarity.

Second, Gower sets a common-sense 10-point Code of Responsible Nuclear Weapon Capable States. Such states adopting these tenets would create significant progress in reducing current nuclear risks.

Finally, Gower outlines what this “Code of Nuclear Responsibility” implies for the future of arms control. He offers a trajectory for how states could both maintain deterrence and revive nuclear strategic stability while, over time, lowering reliance on nuclear weapons. This balancing act is best served by states prioritizing for earliest control and/or elimination the types of nuclear weapons that are “most susceptible to nuclear warfighting.” This aligns with recommendations Andy Weber and I make in the January 2019 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists special edition on U.S. nuclear modernization. (Gower has also been a key contributor to CSR’s work on the future of arms control and the fate of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.)

Read Gower’s full paper here.

 

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