Rybakov – Billingslea arms control meeting 22 and 23 June, in Vienna, Austria

The US and RUSSIA, must focus on nuclear risk reduction, extension of New START and reaffirm that a nuclear war ‘cannot be won and must never be fought’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabakov and US Special Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea meet Monday and Tuesday in Vienna to discuss nuclear arms control issues.

The hands of the Doomsday Clock are now at an unprecedented 100 seconds to midnight, the nearest to the potential end of the world that it has ever been. Knowing this, they should be focussing on the key topics of how to reduce the risk of a nuclear war that would destroy civilization and that could well take place out of miscalculation or malfunction, and how to avoid an arms race that would cost the US at least trillions that ought to be spent on fighting COVID and ending poverty. They should reaffirm that, in the words of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in 1985, ‘A Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’.

If NEW START were to be extended, then that still brief (5 year) window should be used creatively to negotiate a truly worthy successor to it. Wrecking New START will merely wreck the entire framework of arms control that has existed since the 1960s.

The Trump administration knows how to wreck arms control treaties having walked away from the INF treaty, the JCPOA, and the Open Skies treaty. It seems set to walk away from New START without a replacement, leaving the US and Russia with no arms control framework at all for the first time since the late 60’s.

Insisting China, with 320 warheads against Russia and the US’s approx 6,000 warheads, be part of what has always been a bilateral US-Russia framework is a good way to end up with no arms control framework at all.

There is some room even now for optimism. According to Russian foreign minister Ryabakov, “>We will offer the Americans specific areas in which we can and must work, despite the fact that the United States is increasingly immersed in the (election) campaign”.

Agreements could, and absolutely should be reached, first of all to reduce the risk of an accidental global apocalypse that really would be the end of civilization, and then to extend NEW START while something better is negotiated.

The Pandemic has absolutely nothing on what the consequences of an unregulated arms race and a little miscalculation or malfunction might be.

John Hallam

People for Nuclear Disarmament
Human Survival Project
UN Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner
Co-Convener, Abolition 2000 Nuclear Risk Reduction Working Group