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Körber Strategic Stability Initiative
How 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.
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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.
Regional Perspectives







Key Events for Strategic Stability





March 5, 1970Nuclear Weapons & Nuclear Technology
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) consists of three main pillars:
  1. Promoting nuclear technologies for civilian purposes,
  2. Preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and related technologies, and
  3. 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.”
October 3, 1972Strategic Missile Systems
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
Missile Defense
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.
October 3, 1977:
End date of the Interim Agreement on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (SALT I)
June 1, 1988Intermediate-Range Missiles
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.
December 5, 1994Warheads & Strategic Delivery Systems
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.
1996Nuclear Tests
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.
June 13, 2002:
End date of Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty)
December 5, 2009:
End date of Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Socialist Republics on Strategic Arms Reductions (START I)
February 5, 2011Warheads & Strategic Delivery Systems
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.
2011Event
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.
2016Event
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.
2018/2019Event
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.
August 2, 2019:
End date of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)
2019Event
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
Nuclear Weapons
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

General Principles
Low Hanging Fruit
More Ambitious Goals
Download all recom-mendations:
PDF English
PDF German
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.


General Principles
1.A willingness to manage competition is a precondition for strategic stability.
2.Re-learn the lessons of the Cold War.
3.Focus on what is possible.
4.Prioritize substance over format with regard to asymmetries in capabilities.
5.Respect the interests of non-nuclear allies, including other countries’ allies.
6.Europe should find its own voice in strategic stability talks.



Low Hanging Fruit
7.Engage in arms control “socialization.”
8.Deepen existing exchanges and improve crisis communication among the P5.
9.Pursue joint political declarations.
10.Train and recruit more arms control experts.
11.Identify lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.



More Ambitious Goals
12.Consider mixing systems as a model for trilateral arms control.
13.Try to reconcile divergent interests regarding missile defenses.
14.Encourage measures to maximize decision-making time.
15.Reject nuclear compellence.
16.Address the risk of entanglement.
17.Clarify the risks introduced by hypersonic weapons for strategic stability.
18.Engage in a dialogue on principles of AI use in military weapon systems.
19.Establish norms for cyber competition in the nuclear domain.






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The Körber Strategic Stability Initiative is a project initiated and run by Körber-Stiftung and Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH).
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Liana Fix, Christoph Heilmeier, Ulrich Kühn, Leonie Stamm, and Elisabeth Suh.


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