The international arms-control regime has certainly been stronger than it is now.
This is a poor development for the cause of security and of peace. One of the problems is that the world is divided into geopolitical blocks. The United States is allied with various countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance and the Quadratic Security Dialog and Russia and China are allied in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The last remaining arms-control pact with Russia, New Start, hangs by a thread. There are worries about authoritarian (Russia) and totalitarian (China) systems. Russia interferes in the elections of democratic nations and some are worried about China's intentions in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The tensions in the world are so great and the methods of war so dangerous that arms control is needed in the future.
As of the writing of this story, the world continues to arm itself beyond belief. There is no regulatory apparatus to regulate cyberweapons nor is there an apparatus for autonomous weapons. There is a big question for advocates of arms control - is there is a chance for new arms-control agreements if you cannot keep the old ones together? Can the whole idea of arms control work in an international system that is fracturing?
The Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1960s gave rise to treaties between the United States, Soviet Russia, and other countries to control nuclear weapons. The world was very divided then and the accomplishments of that time gives one hope that a divided world can still work together for quality arms control. President Donald Trump has stated that such treaties were made in a different era and do not include China, but China does not have near the arsenal as the U.S. or Russia.
A treaty like New Start would only work with China only if the U.S. made large cuts in its nuclear arsenal, something that is not likely to happen right now. That does not mean that bilateral agreements between the U.S. and Russia are not desirable. In addition to reducing the probability of a nuclear war between the two biggest nuclear powers, such agreements promote transparency, flexibility, and good faith. They bring countries with vastly different political systems together.
Some might be so frustrated with the fractures in the international system that they want to give up on arms control altogether. Arms control has long served as a means by which imperfect nations agree to moderate risk in the name of mutual self-interest. Both sides in the current geopolitical divide could, and should, see that it is in their self-interest to work toward a world with fewer nuclear, conventional, and new high-technology weapons.
If the U.S. political and economic model is going to prevail over totalitarian and authoritarian states, we must be a model for states that want to move beyond those systems. We need to rebuild internally! This means investments in research and development, education, healthcare, everything it takes to build a larger middle class! Such a project will be easier if we control the number of arms in the world. Will we choose the side of arms control and internal development? Or do we go with unilateralism and an America that is not appealing to other parts of the world?
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