On 21 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would suspend its participation in New START, the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the world’s two nuclear superpowers: Russia and the United States.
This is a disappointing, unimaginative but unsurprising step from which nobody benefits.
I hope my levity does not make it seem as if I am dismissing the human reality of the horrors we have witnessed in 2022 or downplaying the seriousness of the events and their implications. But it is the way I express my assessment of the year in a brief interview filmed and disseminated as part of SIPRI’s Peace Points series.
It has been a year of war, crisis, the impact of climate change, growing hunger in poorer countries, and increased cost of living everywhere – rich and poor countries alike. And it came on the back of three years of pandemic for most of the world and a fourth year for China.
There is no point in sugaring the pill. The upshot is that this has been a bad year for peace and security . The only way we can figure out how to deal with all of that is to face it head-on with eyes open. Here’s the film.
The bright spot is that more people are paying attention. That’s the starting point for something better.
On 3 January, the leaders of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA, the P5) jointly stated that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. So say we all, I hope. But what does it mean for the P5 to say this, and to say it now?
The extension of the US-Russian New START agreement on strategic nuclear weapons was achieved through the exchange of two sets of diplomatic notes between the respective governments, on 26 January and 3 February. The process was super-straightforward. Both President Putin of Russia and Joe Biden while US President-elect made clear they would each favour extension. The day after inauguration President Biden officially confirmed the position. A few days later, it was done. This was the lowest of low-hanging fruit. Good to have gotten it out of the way (and stupid that the previous administration let it go down to the wire) but now the real work starts.
There are so many crucial items on the global agenda that one struggles to keep up (though I do wonder whether there really are more now than there used to be or does it just feel that way?). Covid-19 and its economic consequences, the likely increase in extreme poverty and hunger, climate change and the rest of the compound environmental crisis, the attack on democracy in the world’s richest and most powerfully armed state, rising inequality, toxic geopolitics, intractable armed conflicts. And more. This does not seem to be a happy age that we are living through.
In this (rather lengthy) post, I focus on prospects for arms control in 2021. The big challenge is how to make progress against such an unpromising backdrop.