Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Return of Arms Control

It is interesting that in 2008, some twenty years after the reputed end of the Cold War, arms control is once again emerging as a major issue--and that both candidates seem to think that arms control should serve as the basis of a renewed diplomatic engagement with Russia.

But what concerns me is the "numbers game"--defining arms control in terms of numbers. For me, I'd like to see the definition expanded in a different way.

We are in a unique period, where only one nuclear power--us--extends the protection of our national nuclear umbrella over other countries. All other nuclear powers hold their stocks solely for national defense. I think that's something we'd want to continue. I don't relish the idea of a resurgent Russia or rising China deciding at some point to extend their field and scope of activity. We certainly don't want to see the Shanghai Cooperation Organization turned into a treaty organization that extends the nuclear umbrella.

So arms control as increasingly limiting what a country will do with its nuclear force is something to pay attention to.

The U.S. will also have to decide whether it wants strict limits on numbers or whether it would prefer to have flexibility in terms of pursuing missile defense. As MD systems come on line, China and Russia, and perhaps other nuclear powers, will be less interested in pursuing low ceilings. So does it matter to us whether Russia has 2200 or 1700 warheads?

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