Russia and the United States: Nuclear Arms Race 2.0

Written by: Maggie Winding

Eight years ago, in 2010, the United States and Russia signed a treaty committing to keep their long-range ballistic missiles at the lowest levels since the beginning of the Cold War. The Treaty, known as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START- the original was drafted in 1991), was enacted on February 5, 2011, and went into full force on February 5, 2018. The Treaty gave both the United States and Russia seven years to incrementally reduce the number of offensive nuclear arms each possessed to within an agreed upon set of limitations. The duration of the Treaty is ten years, and therefore will be reviewed in 2021 to determine whether or not to extend. With mutual agreement, the Treaty may be extended for up to five years, to 2026

When President Barack Obama signed the Treaty in 2010, it was seen as a stepping-stone to further weapons reductions, and eventually to a world without nuclear weapons. Recently, however, the international community was made aware that Russia has been modernizing their weaponry. While Russia vows their arsenals remain within the limits outlined by the treaty, the news hit a competitive nerve in President Donald Trump. In his State of the Union address on January 31, Trump called upon Congress to “modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal,” and tasked Defense Secretary James Mattis with evaluating our current nuclear capabilities and reassessing the United States’ nuclear strategy through a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which was completed and released by the Department of Defense on February 2. James Mattis added just a few days ago that the “great power competition—not terrorism—is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.” While President Trump may not have identified Russia as his rationale for increasing nuclear capabilities during the State of the Union Address, it became evident in the NPR that the motivation to rebuild our nuclear arsenal was in response to Russia’s actions. “Our strategy will ensure Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is unacceptable,” claimed NPR. In response to the review, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it was very disappointed by the content of the document, which, it said, has a confrontational feel and anti-Russian orientation.

The report also contained a sharp warning that Russia poses a significant threat to the United States as they are “developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers as well as at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle, and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo.” While this weaponry does not yet defy the terms of the New Start Treaty, it nonetheless poses a significant threat to the United States, as many of their missiles, specifically their new torpedo, possess the capability of reaching the West Coast virtually undetected and with the capacity to release enough radioactivity to make the large parts of the region uninhabitable. Where President Barack Obama stood firm in his decision to be a world leader in the reduction of offensive arms in hopes other countries would follow suit, President Trump is hereby resigning that disposition, favoring instead to outdo and intimidate the competition through shows of power and military might. The current arms buildups of the United States and Russia only further contributes to the preexisting tensions between the two powerful nations. 

I think that the arms buildup between the two nations is unnecessary and creates avoidable global unease. The United States should maintain its role as a leader in the international reduction of offensive arms, and not stoop to the level of pageantry showmanship with Russia. Military strategists may say that ignoring Russia’s weapons innovations creates vulnerability and a potential security threat for the United States, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. However, if the United States makes the decision not to increase arms and instead promote global cooperation, it would show the rest of the international community how much peace is prioritized, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.