Robert E. Berls Jr., PhD
Senior Advisor for Russia and Eurasia
Rising Nuclear Dangers: Steps to Reduce Risks in the Euro-Atlantic
This report, Rising Nuclear Dangers: Steps to Reduce Risks in the Euro-Atlantic Region, by NTI's Robert E. Berls, Jr. and Leon Ratz offers recommendations to avoid accidents, enhance predictability, and build confidence between the West and Russia. In the Foreword, below, Des Browne, Wolfgang Ischinger, Igor Ivanov and Sam Nunn, call on Western and Russian leaders to take immediate steps to reduce the risk of a dangerous military confrontation.
Russia and the West are at a dangerous crossroads. During the past several years, we have been in a state of escalating tension, trapped in a downward spiral of antagonism and distrust. With our militaries moving closer—in the skies over the Baltic Sea, in the depths of the North Atlantic, and across the Middle East—the risks of miscalculation or accident and escalation are unacceptably high. Unless Western and Russian leaders take immediate steps to improve transparency and enhance predictability, they may inadvertently risk a deadly confrontation.
This paper, which is based on a survey of leading defense and security experts from the United States, Russia, and Europe, puts forward nine urgent and practical recommendations to ensure that we avoid the worst kind of catastrophe: a nuclear incident involving NATO and Russian forces. The measures are focused on preventing accidents, enhancing predictability, and building confidence. These include recommendations to fly military aircraft with transponders turned on, to establish “safe distance” protocols for ships and aircraft, to demonstrate restraint in military exercises, and to improve transparency for deployments of both missile and missile defense systems.
Perhaps most importantly, this paper recommends that Western and Russian leaders initiate a dialogue focused on strategic stability and nuclear risk reduction. Dialogue should never be seen as a sign of weakness—it is essential for nuclear risk reduction to protect our citizens. Military-to-military discussions should be at the top of the list of near-term steps to reduce risk.
Even during the darkest days of the Cold War, we maintained robust channels of communication to prevent nuclear accidents, miscalculations, or nuclear escalation. Today, nearly all of these channels have eroded, and our political and military leaders seldom talk to one another. Simply put, it is national security malpractice that today we have virtually no dialogue among our capitals on reducing nuclear risks. This must change.
Absent engagement, nuclear risks will only continue to increase, endangering all of us. The time to act on our common security interests is now.
Des Browne, Nuclear Threat Initiative, European Leadership Network
Wolfgang Ischinger, Munich Security Conference
Igor Ivanov, Russian International Affairs Council
Sam Nunn, Nuclear Threat Initiative
The four were co-chairs of Building Mutual Security, a Track II dialogue and report that proposed a new approach to security in the Euro-Atlantic region and addressed the most significant obstacle: a corrosive lack of trust, fueled by historical animosities and present uncertainties in the European and global security landscape.
The report is available in both English and Russian.
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