Statement on the future of arms control

On 28 October 2018 the Pugwash President and Secretary-General issued the following statement:

The Demise of Arms Control?

President Trump’s recent announcement that he intends to withdraw the US from the INF Treaty is a serious setback to international arms control efforts. Its immediate consequence is a further deepening of mistrust and antagonism. The message and counter-reaction implicitly increase the salience of nuclear weapons globally, signalling to other States that the US and Russia plan to revert to a world ungoverned by treaties constraining their actions. Over time, this may lead to the disintegration of the current arms control regime and to the reopening of the nuclear arms race, not only in Europe but in other parts of the world.

This precarious and dangerous situation with the INF Treaty again raises a broader concern about the health of arms control and disarmament processes. The abandonment of the ABM treaty in 2002 resulted in a lowering of mutual confidence and collective security, and it seems clear that this latest development will only produce the same result. We call for full compliance with the INF Treaty by both Russia and the US, and urge that concerns about treaty violations should be addressed via constructive and purpose-oriented dialogue between the parties. Rather than withdrawal as a first step, a productive move would be reaffirmation of commitment to the Special Verification Commission established under Article XIII of the Treaty.

It is true that, with time, arms control and disarmament agreements may experience pressures due to the changing strategic environment and other factors, such as technological innovations. This may require certain substantive adjustments or additional clarification of procedures, including on verification. However, this should not be the reason to scrap important arrangements without consideration for the consequences and without any serious attempt to work out compensating mechanisms or solutions to compliance problems. To be sure, the nuclear landscape is more complex than in 1987, with China, India, Pakistan, the DPRK, and Israel figuring in the security calculations of the American and Russian postures. Nevertheless, we urge that cooperation in the field of arms control is the key to producing long-lasting security for all.

The process of arms control can help promote stability and lower tensions, acting as a shock absorber in difficult political situations. The absence of meaningful strategic dialogue between the US and Russia in the past decade should be of great concern. It is a trend that risks damaging the prospects for an extension of the current “New START” agreement, due to expire in 2021 – any failure to extend the “New START” would be seriously detrimental to strategic stability. Moreover, other major multilateral agreements such as the NPT and prospects for entry into force of the CTBT have also been negatively affected, while dismissal of the JCPOA by the current US Administration is another negative development that may have serious regional impact in the Middle East, as well as to the international non-proliferation regime. All this does not augur well for the next NPT review conference due in 2020.

Nuclear-armed States should not be proposing or considering expanding their nuclear arsenals and developing other war technologies. Doing so will only lead back to the reckless days of Cold War arms competition. Both Russia and the US have a responsibility to engage one another again in serious and productive discussions that lead to increased security for the whole international community. Decades of effort to build an architecture of restraint are unravelling because key lessons from the early Cold War years seem to have been forgotten. The interests of all countries and humankind are best served by promoting arms control and disarmament arrangements that prevent unconstrained competition and lead to the elimination of nuclear arsenals.

As in the past, such as the dangerous situation in the 1980s which ultimately led to the conclusion of the INF Treaty, civil society has an important role to play in this regard.


Sergio Duarte, President
Paolo Cotta-Ramusino, Secretary-General

Original message:

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