Renaissance thinker Hugo Grotius wanted humanity to work toward a more orderly world.
He was the progenitor of the idea of international law, or the idea that political entities could establish laws and those laws would lay the groundwork for a more peaceful world. While war hasn't been abolished altogether, we've come a long way since Grotius' ideas emerged. War no longer decimates 25 percent of the earth's population like it did before the emergence of the nation state in the 1700s. Several arms-control treaties have been struck over the years, some of which kept the United States/Soviet Russia Cold War within boundaries. Others simmered tensions in other parts of the world. However, the idea of security through arms control is being tested with the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Naturally, the invasion has brought United States/Russia relationship to a low ebb, as relations have not been so bad since the days of the Cold War. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty could expire in 2026, the last legally binding treaty between the US and Russia. No one who believes in arms control as a method of security can argue that we'd be better off without New START. As writer John Erath stated in his story "A World Without Arms Control," our goal should not be to have treaties. Our goal should be to minimize the danger of nuclear weapons.
The destruction that an aggressive nuclear power could do means that nonproliferation efforts are very important. This means following a path that places resources on diplomacy aimed at resolving regional disputes without triggering arms races. The State Department offices tasked with non-proliferation and arms control have been historically understaffed. The narrative that Ukraine was victimized in part because it gave up nuclear weapons is already out there and needs to be countered with messaging that more nuclear weapons will increase dangers worldwide.
The People's Republic of China's nuclear buildup is scary, even though the total number of Chinese weapons is below the number of US nuclear missiles. China is the only nuclear state substantially increasing its stockpile and is not transparent about its plans. Given the uneven distribution between the PRC and its adversaries, it would be unlikely for Beijing to agree to a limitation agreement, but there remains considerable scope for confidence building to reinforce deterrence, so the risk of inadvertent use is low. The Cold War dynamic of the US and Soviet Russia owning most of the world's nuclear weapons is over, and Russia's violations of international law have left us with many questions when it comes to how to proceed in the field of arms control. However, it would be wrong to think of a future that doesn't include arms control or of nuclear weapons use.
National and global interests tell us that it's worth pursuing such non-proliferation and arms-control efforts as they will help lower tensions and possibly set the stage for eventual reductions in nuclear weapons. The weakness the Russian state has shown in recent weeks might mean it's ready for a round of arms-control negotiations. For the sake of law, let's hope so.
Jason Sibert is the Lead Writer for the Peace Economy Project.