The Collapse of the Last Nuclear Weapons Treaties

Photograph Source: Mark Dixon – CC BY 2.0

The Tenth Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Concludes in Failure, the Death of Gorbachev, and the Bombing of the Zaporizhazhya Nuclear Power Plant.

The death today of Mikhail Gorbachev concludes the life of the last Soviet leader, more humanitarian than commissar, and more opposed to nuclear weapons than any of his cohorts on the world stage.

Had U.S. President Ronal Reagan accepted Gorbachev’s proposal to verifiably and mutually eliminate all nuclear weapons arsenals of the Soviet Union and the United States, as proffered in 1986 in Reykjavik, ninety one percent of the world’s nuclear weapons would have been eliminated.

Reagan in Iceland reserved the right to build the fabulist, farcical Star Wars missile defense, costing trillions of dollars, and the opportunity to elimination the weapons that could destroy the Earth disappeared. The two leaders did agree the Intermediate Nuclear Force Treaty removing short range nuclear delivery systems from the European Theater, which substantially reduced the nuclear weapons deployed along the Iron Curtain.

But Trump unilaterally withdrew from the INF in 2019 and threatened to leave the New START accord with Russia when the treaty expires in 2026. New START is the only treaty in force that limits the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed by Russia and the U.S. to 1,550 deployed warheads. Rigorous Inspection and verification protocols were defined and have been adhered to since coming into force n 2010. Russia and the U.S. are allowed eighteen on-site inspections per year, with as little as thirty-two hours notice.

Similar high hopes equaled zero reductions in the existential threat that nuclear weapons pose as the Tenth Nuclear Non-Proliferation concluded this week at the United Nation in New York. The NPT is the only multi-lateral and oldest nuclear weapons treaty. The NPT is reviewed every five years, and the last three NPT Reviews have ended in failure.

Frayed arguments about creating a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, the failure of the five nuclear armed signatories of the NPT to reduce their nuclear arsenals again stymied progress at the most recent NPT Review. Russia’s refusal to agree a demilitarized zone around the Ukranian Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Plant which it occupies spoiled further consensus.

The U.S. and Russia were able to salvage agreement that the NewSTART Treaty should be renewed. Still the State Department could not offer the other 190 NPT nations any proof or commitment that the U.S. would eliminate its nuclear arsenal, adopt a No First Use of nuclear weapons posture, or even promise not to attack with nuclear weapons other non-nuclear armed countries.

Whether the NPT can survive decades of failed negotiations and stalled reductions in nuclear arsenals is uncertain. Whether the NewSTART Treaty can be renewed, given the rancor between the U.S. and Russia is not a forgone conclusion. Whether an operating nuclear power plant can be captured in a military invasion, and held hostage like Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya is proven.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s death knell marks the passing of a statesman, and also marks the failure of the nuclear armed powers to accomplish the elimination of such horrific weapons which was clearly possible during Gorbachev’s tenure.