In Gorky Park, with nuclear worries via The Hill


On a recent Friday night in Moscow, I went for a stroll through Gorky Park, along the Moscow River. Mothers were pushing their toddlers in strollers; couples were walking hand-in-hand; people in paddle boats were cruising around a pond. I thought of how my own daughters would enjoy this scene.

And then, like a bath of ice water down my back, it hit me: these are the people at whom my country has thousands of nuclear weapons pointed, and whose country has thousands of such weapons pointed at us. The horrifying insanity of that fact left me breathless.


If U.S. and Russian plans for nuclear war ever were carried out, tens of millions would die — including, in all likelihood, everyone I saw in Gorky Park. Much of the human civilization built up over thousands of years would be obliterated. More than a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, we continue to rest our security plans on threats to kill more people than Adolf Hitler ever did.

Today, both Russia and the United States are modernizing their nuclear forces to keep these threats robust for decades to come — though their forces’ total numbers are limited by treaties (thank goodness). The U.S. program is expected to cost $1.2 trillion over 30 years, and the Trump administration has added new, smaller nuclear weapons that critics warn might seem more usable should war come. Russia’s program includes entirely new types of strategic weapons, from an intercontinental torpedo designed to blow up U.S. coastal cities to a nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed cruise missile.

In both countries, these efforts are going forward with only the most limited public debate.


So, in the classic Russian phrase, what is to be done?

First, at their next summit, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin should restate the fundamental point that Reagan and Gorbachev once made: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Second, they should direct their governments to make the compromises necessary to resolve the charges of violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that each side is making against the other. Third, they should extend the New START Treaty for five years, keeping its cap on nuclear forces and the inspections and data exchanges that enhance transparency and predictability. That would give negotiators time to work out a follow-on agreement.

Then, U.S. and Russian experts need to revitalize in-depth “strategic stability” talks, to explore both sides’ concerns and how they might be addressed. From Europe to the Middle East, they need to discuss ways to resolve or tamp down regional conflicts and tensions that might someday bring U.S. and Russian forces to blows. Washington and Moscow need to agree to fully implement accords to prevent dangerous military incidents, and allow observers at military exercises.

And they need to get our militaries and nuclear scientists talking to each other again; today, the world’s most powerful militaries and largest nuclear complexes are proceeding in almost total isolation from each other, which poses a danger to everyone.


Matthew Bunn is a professor of practice at Harvard Kennedy School and is co-principal investigator for the Project on Managing the Atom at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

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