The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which represents the sole treaty currently limiting nuclear arms arsenals between the United States and Russia, will expire in 2026. What approach should the United States take as it seeks to maintain a “safe, secure, and effective” nuclear deterrent while also considering possible future negotiations on nuclear arms control and risk reduction agreements?
This monograph by 2020 National Defense University-U.S. Strategic Command Scholar Lt Col Justin Bronder, USAF, assesses four different approaches for the United States to consider: 1) seek a bilateral U.S.-Russia agreement that maintains strategic nuclear forces at New START levels with some additional transparency measures on missile defenses and “tactical” nuclear weapons; 2) attempt to negotiate a multilateral legally-binding treaty aimed at significant reductions of nuclear weapons; 3) hold separate talks with Russia and China on bilateral, politically-binding agreements seeking to manage nuclear risks; or 4) unilaterally pursue nuclear superiority. The paper provides a detailed evaluation of each of these potential options across five categories: strategic stability (How might this approach affect arms race stability and first-strike stability?); proliferation (Will this affect whether other states consider developing or otherwise attempting to acquire nuclear weapons?); extended deterrence (How might U.S. allies respond? Will it affect their views of U.S. nuclear security guarantees?); cost (How might it affect the U.S. budget?); and competitive advantage (How might it affect the “direction and velocity” of strategic competition with Russia and China?).
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