Körber Strategic Stability InitiativeHow can we prevent great power competition from escalating into open military conflict?
Together, we can choose a different path and change our collective fate.
The United States, Russia, and China – including Europe and other regional actors – must increase their efforts to strengthen strategic stability. The short window of opportunity created by the five-year extension of the New START Treaty must be used by political leaders to take tangible steps to enhance strategic stability. Efforts to strengthen strategic stability can play a vital role in stabilizing security relationships and in preventing competition from escalating into open conflict.
The Körber Strategic Stability Initiative developed nineteen principles and policy recommendations that can serve as a starting point to enhance international peace and security.
What is Strategic Stability?
Strategic stability describes a state of affairs that aims to minimize all types of risks of deterrence failure.
It can be understood as a state in which the postures, capabilities and doctrines of nuclear-armed states do not incentivize the first-use of nuclear weapons in a crisis (crisis stability); in which those states have an assured retaliatory capability; and in which they do not improve their relative position by increasing strategic arsenals qualitatively or quantitatively (arms race stability). Strategic stability concerns not only the nuclear domain, but also space, cyber and advanced offensive and defensive conventional weapon systems.
Key Events for Strategic Stability
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) consists of three main pillars:
- Promoting nuclear technologies for civilian purposes,
- Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and related technologies, and
- Furthering the goal of nuclear disarmament.
Article VI of the NPT commits its 190 state parties – including the five official nuclear-weapons states under the NPT – to:
“pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Interim Agreement on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (SALT I)
The Soviet Union and United States negotiated the first agreements to limit nuclear weapons between 1969 and 1972.
The first round of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) produced the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement, the latter capping intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
A follow-on treaty never entered into force.
October 3, 1972
Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty)
Anti-ballistic missile systems, or missile defense systems, can erode the other side’s ability to retaliate, thus threatening the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (and therewith a component of strategic stability).
With the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, Moscow and Washington acknowledged that these systems fuel “the race in strategic offensive arms.” The treaty uniquely barred both parties from deploying nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, allowing each side to have only two ground-based defense sites with limited numbers of interceptors.
The United States withdrew from the treaty in 2002.
End date of the Interim Agreement on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (SALT I)
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)
With the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Soviet Union and the United States got rid of an entire category of missiles.
Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan sign the INF Treaty, December 8, 1987
The INF Treaty eliminated and prohibited all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles and their launchers with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km. Both sides destroyed a total 2,692 missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline in 1991. The treaty also allowed for extensive on-site inspections for verification. In 2014, the United States publicly accused Russia of violating the treaty by developing and testing a new missile in the forbidden ranges of INF.
In 2019, the United States, and in a counter move later Russia, withdrew from the INF Treaty.
Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START I)
The START I Treaty was the first treaty that committed the Soviet Union (and after its breakup the Russian Federation) and the United States to both limits and actual reductions of strategic offensive weapon systems.
The treaty limited the number of nuclear warheads to 6,000 and of strategic delivery systems to 1,600 for both sides. It required the destruction of systems beyond the agreed limits, and included an intrusive verification regime that involved on-site inspections, regular exchange of information, and the use of national technical means such as satellites. All parties met the agreement’s implementation deadline of 2001.
START I initiated a strategic arms reduction process that included the negotiation of two follow-on treaties which never entered into force.
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
After decades of negotiating an agreement prohibiting the testing of nuclear explosives, the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty opened for signature to all states in 1996.
It bans nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, in outer space, underground or underwater. While China and the United States were among the first states to sign the treaty, their ratification remains pending. The CTBT does not enter into force, however, unless China, the United States and six other countries with specific nuclear technology ratify the treaty.
Russia ratified the treaty in 2000.
End date of Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty)
End date of Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Socialist Republics on Strategic Arms Reductions (START I)
Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START)
The New START Treaty represents the first verifiable strategic nuclear arms control treaty since START I in 1994.
Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev sign New START Treaty, April 8, 2010
It further reduced the number of deployed warheads to a limit of 1,550 as well as of deployed strategic delivery vehicles to 700, and of deployed and non-deployed strategic delivery vehicles to 800. The treaty also expanded the verification regime. Russia and the United States met the treaty’s implementation date of 2018.
Its extension in 2021 until 2026 makes New START the only remaining bilateral nuclear arms control treaty, providing for the continuation of the treaty’s limits and verification measures.
Hypersonic missile tests kick off
The United States tests its first generation of hypersonic missiles as part of the U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike program. Russia starts to test its own systems in 2012, China in 2014. The arms race of developing (and deploying) hypersonic delivery vehicles begins – and accelerates with advancements of technology.
Expansion of U.S. missile defense systems
After continuous improvements of its missile defense systems since 2002, the United States starts deployments of ground-launched systems in Poland, Romania, and South Korea. In 2017, missile systems able to intercept intercontinental missiles are deployed in Alaska. While the effectiveness of intercepting incoming missiles remains debatable, missile defense systems are seen as a major threat by China and Russia.
Strategic competition and new nuclear arms
The DF-17 missile system, which can carry a hypersonic glide vehicle, at a military parade in Beijing, October 1, 2019.
In February 2018, the Trump Administration publishes its Nuclear Posture Review, naming China and Russia as drivers of strategic competition and suggesting the deployment of new low-yield nuclear weapons on U.S. submarines. In March 2018, Vladimir Putin presents Russia’s latest missile systems in response to U.S. weapons developments. Tests and deployments follow shortly thereafter. In October 2019, China parades its newest missile systems on the occasion of its 70th anniversary. Shortly before, it had published a defense white paper that responded directly to being named a strategic competitor by the United States.
End date of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)
New missiles in a post-INF world
U.S. flight test of a ground-launched cruise missile, August 18, 2019.
Shortly after its formal withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the United States starts testing ground-launched missile systems that were prohibited under the treaty. The Pentagon announces development and testing of INF-systems and mentions possible deployment on allied territory in the Pacific. Reports indicate that Russia has started to deploy its 9M729 cruise missile, which NATO allies suspect is in the ranges of the now defunct INF Treaty.
January 22, 2021
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)
In the context of the nuclear-weapons states’ unfulfilled Art. VI obligations under the NPT, the erosion of the bilateral U.S.-Russian arms control process, and major powers modernizing and upgrading their nuclear arsenals, the vast majority of non-nuclear-weapons states initiated a process that culminated in the multilateral negotiation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Among other stipulations, the treaty prohibits development, possession, and use of nuclear weapons as well as assistance to do so.
All nine states that possess nuclear weapons as well as their allies remain absent from the treaty, which entered into force after 50 states ratified it in January 2021.
19 Policy Recommendations
For the Future of Strategic Stability
The Körber Strategic Stability Initiative
Fundamental challenges to traditional concepts of strategic stability and arms control require new ideas and creative approaches. For this purpose, Körber-Stiftung
and the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH)
initiated the Körber Strategic Stability Initiative
Over the course of one year, the project regularly convened a small group of selected think tankers and experts from the United States, Russia, China and Europe (France, the UK and Germany) to develop new ideas and approaches addressing key challenges to stability and security in the 21st century.
The following 19 policy recommendations, completed in April 2021, are the result of this process.
Andrey BaklitskiyAndrey Baklitskiy is Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced American Studies at the Institute of International Studies of the MGIMO University of the Russian Foreign Ministry and a Consultant at PIR Center. His areas of expertise include nuclear arms control, nuclear non-proliferation, Iranian nuclear program, US-Russian strategic relations.
Dr. Corentin BrustleinCorentin Brustlein was, until April 2021, the Director of the Security Studies Center at the French Institute of International Relations in Paris. He has been a member of the Advisory Board for Disarmament Matters to the UN Secretary-General since 2018 and holds a PhD in political science from the Jean Moulin University of Lyon. He participated in the KSSI in a strictly personal capacity.
Dr. Samuel CharapDr. Samuel Charap is a Senior Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation, based in RAND’s Washington, DC office. His research interests include the political economy and foreign policies of Russia and the former Soviet states; European and Eurasian regional security; and US-Russia deterrence, strategic stability and arms control.
Dr. Liana FixLiana Fix is Programme Director for International Affairs at Körber-Stiftung’s Berlin office. Previously, she was affiliated with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). Her areas of expertise include Russia and Eastern Europe, EU-Russia relations, German Foreign Policy, and European Security.
Christoph HeilmeierChristoph Heilmeier is a Programme Manager for International Affairs at Körber-Stiftung. His areas of expertise include German foreign policy, U.S. politics and transatlantic relations as well as digitalisation and foreign policy.
Prof. Han HuaHan Hua is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Arms Control and Disarmament at the School of International Studies (SIS), Peking University, China. Her research interests cover nuclear-related deterrence and strategic stability both in regional and global perspectives. She has led programs and projects on those areas.
Dr. Ulrich KühnDr. Ulrich Kühn leads the research area “Arms Control and Emerging Technologies” at IFSH and is a Non-Resident Scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His research focuses on arms control and non-proliferation mechanisms, nuclear and conventional deterrence, Euro-Atlantic and European security, and international security institutions.
Dr. Dmitry SuslovDmitry V. Suslov is a Deputy Director at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, National Research University – Higher School of Economics, as well as a Deputy Director for Research at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. He conducts research and consults the Russian government and business on the US Foreign Policy and US-Russia relations, Russia-EU relations, and Russian Foreign Policy.
Dr. Heather WilliamsDr. Heather Williams is a Lecturer (Associate Professor) at King's College London. She is also an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and a Senior Associate Fellow with the European Leadership Network. From 2018 to 2019 Dr. Williams served as a Specialist Advisor to the House of Lords International Relations Committee inquiry into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Disarmament.
Tong Zhao, PhDTong Zhao is a senior fellow at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. His research focuses on strategic security issues, such as nuclear weapons policy, deterrence, arms control, nonproliferation, missile defense, and hypersonic weapons. His current research focuses on possible future arms control options for the major powers.
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