By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow
Today the upper house of the Russian Parliament passed the New START Treaty, making the much heralded arms-reduction agreement official. By passing New START, both the United States and Russia agree to reduce their nuclear warheads to 1,500, from the 1,700 to 2,200 range allowed under the original (Old?) START treaty, and scale down the number and capabilities of the other legs of the Nuclear Triad. The New START was a child of necessity and the President’s expressed promise to reduce global nuclear stockpiles to zero. The original START treaty was set to expire in 2009, which allowed Obama his first chance to put his policy into action.
In some ways, reducing global stockpiles of nuclear weapons would make the world significantly safer. There would be much less chance of an accidental launch, Fail-Safe style, and there would be no worries over terrorists acquiring the weapons. However, states could still accidentally lob really powerful weapons at each other using both parents of the Bomb family (although in this case the accident would be more Dr. Strangelove than Fail-Safe), and insurgent forces could acquire the technology and expertise to unleash chemical and biological attacks that could have a similar casualty rate of a nuclear detonation.
Also, in a world with no nuclear weapons, the one-eyed man (or, in this case, the one nuclear-armed state) is king. The United States possessed unparalleled power after the detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki partly because it was the only country that possessed nuclear technology, and the subsequent Soviet demonstration in 1949 reduced U.S. power. If no other country has nuclear weapons, the nation with one device, even if it were North Korea, Iran, or Pakistan, would posses unrivaled military strength and have disproportionate influence in the international arena.
Worst of all, moving to a world without nuclear weapons wouldn’t mean that countries would stop arms races. Instead of building a senseless number of nuclear weapons, states would compete with their rivals to build nuclear technology, and then produce a senseless number of nuclear weapons. Having zero nuclear warheads only prolongs the inevitable spiral of nuclear arms build-ups.
The real reason reducing nuclear arms to zero isn’t a great idea is because international insecurity remains. As long as countries are unsure about a rival’s intentions, they will look to the biggest, most destructive weapon to ensure their survival, which is usually a nuclear weapon (let’s discount non-state actors for a moment). But when that uncertainty over intentions—let’s call it a “security dilemma”—begins to weaken, countries are free to reduce their arms stockpiles and move back from the brink of war. And that’s exactly what happened with the US and Russia today.
Transatlantic scholars are attempting to reduce the security dilemma in international politics by ensuring nations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean adequately understand the intentions of their partner countries. The United States and the United Kingdom don’t need to hold arms reduction talks because they have been allies for years, and aren’t worried each about other pressing sailors into service anymore. With the further work of transatlantic integrationists, nations in the Atlantic community will be secure in dealings with their old allies and new partners alike.