Status: Open

The pathways toward risk reduction and de-escalation at times of strategic instability in Europe

Orlov, Vladimir A.
Founder & Director, PIR Center
July 20, 2022

For the first time in the last 30 years, not only experts but also ordinary people start thinking about nuclear weapons and nuclear dangers again. It’s much less about climate, It’s much more about nuclear challenges and threats. Ordinary Europeans feel very vulnerable today, they definitely haven’s felt so vulnerable for the last 30 years, and the current situation very clearly reminds many of us about the nuclear dangers of the early 1980s.

Here are my ten points on what can be realistically done at times of strategic instability in Europe also aimed at finding the pathways toward risk reduction and de-escalation.

1) We should learn from history. And we should examine who – and how – establishes the rules. We should look back 60 years ago to the Cuban missile crisis, and this year is the 60th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. If we look back, we would see that the Soviet deployment of missiles and warheads in Cuba was not illegal. It was a response to the real threat to the Soviet national security when the United States decided it will feel more comfortable putting Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Although it was not illegal what the Soviet Union did, and the United States had found it unacceptable for their own security. So, it’s not only about the treaties, not only about international law, which is more dead rather than alive today but also about the assessment of perceptions of security of the Russian nuclear potential.

2) Responsibility and predictability of all declared nuclear-weapon states as well as of all states possessing nuclear weapons is essential. Any discussion of the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons in a regional conflict, or in a conflict not questioning the existence of that state, should be considered irresponsible. Strategic or non-strategic, nuclear weapons should not be introduced on the battlefield if we do not want total nuclear annihilation.

3) Connecting the dots between current nuclear escalation and the forthcoming NPT review conference in New York in August, where actually we would celebrate slightly belatedly the 50th anniversary of the NPT, is a challenging yet important task. Finding a peaceful coexistence between NPT and TPNW is another challenge. Article VI of the NPT has to be implemented in full and in its interconnection between its nuclear and non-nuclear components. Separating one from the other would be a mistake.

4) We should not underestimate the statement made by the P5 in January this year, just a few months ago, where it was stated by all nuclear weapon states in accordance with the NPT that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. But what is the role of the P5 today when there are strong clashes within this group? Will the P5 survive? Not only it should survive, but the role of the P5, in my view, should be strengthened. Article VI of the NPT is not for the Russian-American duo. It is a quintet.

5) While P5 declares that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, there is a real risk of an increase in nuclear arsenals by nuclear weapon states. I believe it is important to call against the further increase of nuclear weapons number by nuclear weapon states.

6) After 30 years the international community failed to see an internationally legally binding ban on nuclear testing in force. In my view, there should be a strong call made for the CTBT to enter into force by 2026, by the 30th anniversary of its opening for signature.

7) The more nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world the better. It is true that zones cannot be enforced, they cannot be established without a will expressed by the nations participating. But it is also true that the risk of placement of nuclear weapons outside of national territories of certain nuclear weapon states has been increasing. So, today only one state has nuclear weapons far away – the United States keeps some of its nuclear weapons outside its national territory, on the land in Europe. But doesn’t it open a very dangerous Pandora’s box for other NWSs? Under the current tensions in Europe, it would be healthy to re-open discussions on establishing a zone, or a corridor, free of nuclear weapons, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, originating from the ideas of a Swedish expert Yan Pravitz.

8) I call against further degradation of strategic stability. There is a deep freeze in strategic stability discussions between the Russian Federation and the United States. It is unhealthy and unhelpful.

9) Nuclear risk reduction could and should become an important topic for the work of the expert community.

10) We should strongly support the engagement of the young generation of arms control, nonproliferation and nuclear security experts. Those people who lack experience in all traditional topics – the cold war, nuclear phobias of the 1970s, nuclear escalations of the 1980s – I think they may and should think out of the box, and think creatively. In that sense, the traditional PIR Center’s rule in promoting disarmament and nonproliferation education is particularly important this year when we not only witness these challenges but also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the report by the Secretary General of the United Nations which had launched a serious chain of positive developments in promoting nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation education.