Since the arrival of nuclear weapons in World War II, the world has lived with the fear of nuclear war.
However, arms control professionals went to work finding ways to control the world's nuclear arsenal. Since the beginning of the Cold War, Russia (in its Soviet and post-Soviet forms) and the United States have held most of the world's nuclear arsenal. The two countries currently hold 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons. Important in using legal means to control nuclear weapons was the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (adopted by President Lyndon Baines Johnson), the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (President Richard Nixon), the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (President Ronald Reagan), the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (President George H.W. Bush), the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (George W. Bush), and the New Start Treaty (President Barack Obama).
START I (George H.W. Bush) expired in 2009 and was replaced by New Start, which President Donald Trump said he might let expire. SORT (George W. Bush) expired in 2012. President George W. Bush cancelled the ABM treaty and Trump recently cancelled INF. In recent years, our country has not acted as an island of stability when it comes to nuclear arms control.
However, the world's power blocks play a role in the equation. Russia is balancing the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. China is balancing the U.S. in Asia. With all of the power balancing, it's no wonder that nuclear weapons are mixed into the fray. The way our country projects power is also an issue when it comes to nuclear weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, our county has insisted on projecting power across the four corners of the globe. When a nation-state becomes too powerful in an international system, another nation-state or group of nation-states balances their power in some way.
We had troops stationed in Europe and Asia to contain the Soviet Union and kept them there after its collapse. We did the same in Japan. In response to the assertiveness of China, the U.S. joined the Quadrilateral Security Dialog with Japan, India, and Australia. At the same time, Russia has allied itself with China, India, and Iran in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The only two U.S. allies in the SCO are Pakistan and Turkey. President Bill Clinton extended NATO to Russia's borders in the late 1990's and this triggered a power balancing act that resulted in Russia's alliance with China and others. Veteran diplomat George Keenan, responsible for the containment strategy of the first Cold War, said at the time of Clinton's extension that the move would ignite a new Cold War. He was right!
In addition to nuclear weapons, we have other issues to address as an international community. The capacity to destroy each other has grown over the years. In the future, we are looking at a world of cyberattacks, artificial intelligence, and autonomous weapons systems. Space militarization is also an issue.
President Trump's recent remarks on nuclear weapons show his disconnect with the world we live in: "We have more money than anybody else by far. We'll build it up until they come to their senses." These remarks tell the story of a man who wants to build up a nuclear arsenal so our country can make dictates to the world, recently stated by former Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev. His remarks are so unrealistic considering the mentioned power blocks that have emerged in the post-Cold War world. Our country doesn't have enough power to dictate its will to the world. This will only lead to another arms race, also noted by Gorbachev.
The danger that destructive weapons create outweighs the conflicts of world politics. The primary conflict of our times is the threats to liberal democracy by authoritarian movements within them and the authoritarian states that balance liberal-democratic states. Trump seems willing to bandwagon with authoritarian powers.
Gorbachev and former Secretary of State George Schultz (Reagan) recently called for a non-governmental forum of U.S. and Russian experts on the security challenges of both countries. The forum would develop proposals to ensure the security of both Russia and the U.S.
Gorbachev recently stated that politics and not weapons are the key to solving the world's problems. Let's hope we take that to heart before it's too late.