The two nuclear powers, which are said to have the worst relationship since the end of the Cold War, have confirmed that they will hold a dialogue on arms control. They should use this opportunity as a stepping-stone to restore a stable relationship.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for the first time as leaders and agreed to begin a Strategic Stability Dialogue to discuss nuclear disarmament and risk reduction measures. While disagreeing fiercely over human rights issues and cyberattacks, they explored areas where they could possibly cooperate and halt the deterioration of their relationship.
The joint statement read, “Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” This is the principle set out in 1985 at a meeting between then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev. The U.S. and the Soviet Union then proceeded with arms control negotiations, which led to the end of the Cold War four years later. It is significant that the leaders of the U.S. and Russia reaffirmed this principle in Geneva, which had been the setting for the historic meeting.
In February, the U.S. and Russia extended the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the only agreement on nuclear disarmament, by five years. The strategic stability dialogue will be centered around the implementation of this treaty.
The two countries, which possess 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, have a responsibility to take the lead in nuclear disarmament. According to an estimate by the Nagasaki University Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition Research, the total number of warheads has decreased due to the disposal of aging warheads, but the number of warheads already deployed or in reserve in Russia has increased since last year. In recent years, both countries have been improving the performance of their weapons, and the reality is that the nuclear arms race is starting up again.
We should take the current situation seriously, in which the stagnation of nuclear disarmament threatens the security of the world. It has allowed China to rapidly expand its nuclear arsenal, and North Korea to increase its nuclear capability. The U.K., which has been steadily reducing its nuclear warheads, announced its new nuclear strategy in March of this year and raised its limit on the number of warheads it possesses because of the growing threat.
The agreement between the U.S. and Russian leaders is only a starting point. It is necessary to take steps to reduce the number of weapons, including those that are not covered by the New START, and to have the conceptual ability to reduce the risk of the use of nuclear weapons in the world while drawing in China as well.
Although it will be difficult to achieve, there are many lessons to be learned from the time when leaders shared the same understanding of the nuclear threat and ended the Cold War.
During the summit, the points of conflict also became clear. Putin responded to the claim that Russia was responsible for cyberattacks on U.S. government agencies by saying that more cyberattacks originate in the U.S. He turned a deaf ear to criticism of the crackdown on dissident leaders.
It is hard to predict whether or not their relationship can be restored. The role of the U.S. and Russia is important not only for nuclear disarmament but also for solving global issues such as infectious diseases and global warming. The two leaders should exercise their leadership in advancing nuclear disarmament while keeping an eye on global stability.