After generations of careful and painstaking work to build a global arms control architecture, it is now collapsing. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, is the last legally binding treaty constraining the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals and unless extended, it will expire in less than six months. At the same time, nuclear stockpiles are on the rise, which can lead to a new nuclear arms race, putting every nation on this planet in danger. The situation is dire, but not inevitable or irreversible. Starting with an extension of New START and moving to constructive and fair dialogues on reducing nuclear risks, we can change our collective fate.
There are three guiding principles that can help make future arms control dialogues more successful. First, the focus should be on substance rather than format. Currently, the reverse is true. The United States is pushing for a trilateral framework with Russia and China; China would like to bring in the United Kingdom and France; and Russia is fine with both options, but believes that in the short term only a bilateral format is realistic. It is not necessary to agree on a single format for dialogue. Addressing concrete security concerns should be the priority and the format should be adapted to the substantive issues at hand. Negotiation over strategic offensive weapons could – for the time being – still be limited to the United States and Russia. Discussing issues of missile defense or space security may make sense for a trilateral discussion because Washington, Moscow, and Beijing are the most relevant players. And talks about security challenges from new technologies can be a broader discussion as there are more stakeholders.