The war in Ukraine shows the urgency of nuclear arms control
Decades after the end of the cold war and mere months after the U.S., Russia and other members of the United Nations Security Council agreed that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," the specter of nuclear apocalypse again looms over humankind.
If either Russia or NATO used shorter-range "Tactical" nuclear weapons in a European conflict, researchers at Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security concluded in a 2019 analysis, it could rapidly escalate into a thermonuclear war that would kill or injure more than 90 million people within a few hours.
In 1962 the U.S. and the Soviet Union narrowly averted nuclear war over the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba.
Another agreement in 1987 banned intermediate-range nuclear weapons, and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991 forced significant reductions in U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals.
These eliminations leave the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, negotiated by former presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, as the only constraint on the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons.
If then unregulated nuclear warheads were combined with other unregulated technologies, such as hypersonic or autonomous weapons, the consequences would be unimaginable.
The U.N.'s Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, advanced by civil society in partnership with nonnuclear states, came into force in January 2021.
The U.S. and Russia are both signatories of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970, in which nations without nuclear weapons agreed to never acquire them; in exchange, they got access to peaceful nuclear technology and, crucially, a promise from nuclear-armed nations to eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.
Still, the U.S. could immediately make the world a safer place by pledging to never be the first to use nuclear weapons.
As difficult as it may be, the U.S. must strive to resume negotiations with Russia to reduce the danger of nuclear warfare.