As Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin vow to develop and modernize their nuclear arsenals, more than three dozen arms control experts and officials from the U.S., Russia, and Europe on Wednesday warned that two key agreements limiting nuclear proliferation are in danger of collapsing, and urged Washington and Moscow to heed the warning that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."
"Leaders in Washington and Moscow cannot afford to ignore their legal and political commitments on nuclear arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament. Nor can they afford to neglect opportunities for serious dialogue to reduce and eliminate nuclear risk, especially now," reads the statement (pdf) by the Deep Cuts Commission, which urges nuclear states to downsize their arsenals and move towards diplomacy.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction (New START) Treaty of 2010, which calls for Russia and the U.S. to limit their nuclear arsenals to 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 missiles with nuclear delivery capacity, is set to expire in February 2021. Russian officials suggested talks last year to extend the treaty, and both countries met the deal's requirements this past February—but the U.S. has so far refused to engage in dialogue.
"Now is the time for the United States and Russia to agree to extend New START until 2026. That would give the sides additional time to discuss what other arms control steps might be appropriate, perhaps in the condition of an improved political atmosphere," wrote the signatories of the statement, titled "Urgent Steps to Avoid a New Nuclear Arms Race and Dangerous Miscalculation."
The group also cautioned that the U.S. and Russia are potentially in non-compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which demanded the elimination of certain ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. The Trump administration has accused Russia of violating the treaty by developing a land-based missile, and Trump has threatened to develop a similar weapon.
As the Commission notes, "Currently, no meetings are scheduled to address the issue. A resolution of the dispute requires high-level leadership from the White House and the Kremlin."
The statement was released as fears of the Trump administration's increasingly hawkish stance grow. John Bolton, who became Trump's national security adviser earlier this month, has been critical of both the INF and the New START Treaty.
"We call on President Trump and President Putin to reaffirm the statement of Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev of 1985 that 'a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,' and to redouble efforts to maintain strategic stability, take practical steps to avoid accidents and miscalculation, preserve the INF Treaty, and agree—as soon as possible—to extend the New START agreement beyond 2021, regardless of whether or not the INF Treaty issue is resolved in advance," wrote the Commission.