A New Nuclear Arms Race Is a Real Possibility

March 15, 2022
Sarah Bidgood

This article is part of a larger Ukraine collection by CNS:
Putin’s War with Ukraine: Voices of CNS Experts on the Russian Invasion

The following is an excerpt from Foreign Policy.

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.

First, the Cuban missile crisis led to feelings of deep mistrust between Washington and Moscow that lingered well beyond Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s withdrawal of weapons from Cuba. As U.S. President John F. Kennedy informed Khrushchev in November 1962, the “undeniable photographic evidence that offensive weapons were being installed was a deep and dangerous shock, first to this Government and then to our whole people.” In this climate, progress on nuclear arms control became almost impossible for eight months after the crisis itself had ended. By the spring of 1963, U.S.-Soviet talks on a comprehensive nuclear test ban were deadlocked over the issue of verification. It was only after Kennedy declared a unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing in June 1963 that the two sides were able to break through this stalemate.

Second, the Cuban missile crisis enabled Kennedy to …

Continue reading at Foreign Policy.

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