Ernest J. Moniz
Co-Chair and Chief Executive Officer, NTI
Russia’s announcement that it is “suspending its participation” in the New START Treaty is another deeply troubling development in the erosion of the guardrails and strategic dialogue that are essential to reducing nuclear risks and preventing catastrophic blunders. Threatening the viability of the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms-control treaty is counterproductive to global strategic stability and Russia’s own security and increases the risk of a dangerous arms race. While Russia’s statement that it will continue to abide by the central limits of New START is significant, on-site inspections and data exchanges are critical to the ability of both sides to monitor and verify compliance.
Dialogue between nuclear-armed countries is always important, but it’s even more crucial during times of heightened tensions. Over the past 12 months, since Russia launched its unjustified and illegal military attack on Ukraine, the war has taken a horrific toll on the Ukrainian people and gravely destabilized regional and international security. The continuing conflict and Russia’s veiled nuclear threats significantly raise the risks of nuclear escalation and catastrophe. Any use of nuclear weapons is unacceptable to humanity and would further compound the grievous error Russia made in beginning this war. In addition, the shelling at and around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant must cease to avoid a potential significant release of radiation.
As the two nations with the largest nuclear stockpiles in the world, the United States and Russia have a unique responsibility to exercise restraint, in particular the responsibility to uphold and extend the 77-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons. Toward that end, Russia and all nuclear states should take practical steps to manage and reduce risk, even in this period of dramatically diminished communication. An example would be to undertake unilateral nuclear “fail-safe” reviews, as the United States is currently doing, to identify actions that could reduce the risk of nuclear use due to technical errors, cyber threats, or miscalculation based on false warning.
Amid rising geopolitical tensions, the risk of a mistake that would have catastrophic consequences is dangerously high. More than ever, it is in the interest of Russia, the United States and all humanity to ensure that every possible measure is in place to guard against nuclear catastrophe, however it might occur.
Learn more on steps toward nuclear-risk reduction in “Advancing Nuclear Fail-Safe,” released by the Euro-Atlantic Security Leadership Group at the Munich Security Conference.
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