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Preparing for Deep Cuts: Options for Enhancing Euro-Atlantic and International Security

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Four years ago, the United States and the Russian Federation concluded the New START Treaty, which mandates reductions in the number of deployed strategic warheads (to 1,550 each) and their means of delivery (to 700 deployed ballistic missiles and heavy bombers) and put in place a system of information exchanges and on-site inspections to verify compliance. Implementation of New START is on track and both sides are confident their strategic forces will conform to the limits by the 2018 deadline.

Even after New START, however, both nations will still possess nuclear arsenals—deployed and non-deployed, strategic and non-strategic—that far exceed reasonable deterrence requirements. Together, the United States and Russia still account for over 90 percent of all nuclear weapons worldwide. Both continue to rely on nuclear weapons employment strategies that are based on traditional Cold War planning assumptions, with hundreds of nuclear arms assigned to targets in each other’s territory and available for prompt launch.

Each country has pledged to achieve further nuclear reductions, in part to meet their obligations and commitments under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), but formal negotiations have not yet begun. Achieving further reductions could enhance national, Euro-Atlantic, and international security to the benefit of all states.

This first report by the trilateral German-Russian-U.S.Deep Cuts Commission examines a number of obstacles impeding progress and it offers practical options that would enable the key parties to make headway. A key focus of this initial report from the Commission is how Washington and Moscow can overcome differences on how and when to achieve further nuclear weapons reductions before New START expires in 2021. Presently, Washington wants to begin negotiations on a follow-on agreement that could result in a further, one-third reduction in strategic forces. Moscow is reluctant to engage on the issue, citing a number of related security concerns, including: U.S. and NATO plans for the deployment of strategic and tactical missile defenses; the development of conventional, high-precision strike weapons; the forces of other nuclear-weapon states; as well as technologies that could lead to weapons based in outer space or targeted against satellites deployed there. While Russia has a far larger number of tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs), Moscow insists upon the removal of U.S. TNWs from Europe, before engaging with the United States and NATO on exploring options to account for and reduce these weapons.

While the current environment does not promise an early breakthrough on further nuclear reductions, this report recommends that all sides should pursue a more energetic dialogue and explore a range of options to overcome and resolve key obstacles. Inaction risks the hardening of each side’s existing positions, leading not only to greater difficulties in ultimately negotiating reductions, but also to a rise in tensions and an erosion of strategic stability in the meantime. Possible misunderstandings, non-transparency, and the unnecessary and costly build-up of arms would be the likely results.

Without continuous undertakings to transform their nuclear doctrines and further reduce the role and number of their nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia will find it more challenging to encourage other nuclear-weapon states to exercise restraint and to reinforce global non-proliferation efforts. Additional cuts to U.S.-Russian nuclear arsenals could also allow both countries to delay or scale back costly nuclear weapons modernization programs and free-up resources for other national security and domestic priorities.

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