The overarching question imparting urgency to this exploration is: Can U.S.-Russian contention in cyberspace cause the two nuclear superpowers to stumble into war? In considering this question we were constantly reminded of recent comments by a prominent U.S. arms control expert: At least as dangerous as the risk of an actual cyberattack, he observed, is cyber operations’ “blurring of the line between peace and war.” Or, as Nye wrote, “in the cyber realm, the difference between a weapon and a non-weapon may come down to a single line of code, or simply the intent of a computer program’s user.”
Strategic arms control between the United States and Russia is in very poor shape. The INF Treaty is no longer in force and the prospects for extending New START, the last remnant of formal bilateral arms control architecture, are uncertain. This situation is troubling but not unprecedented: historically, strategic arms control has not progressed on an ascending trajectory but proceeded in ebbs and flows. The presentation revisits the dynamics of bilateral strategic arms control, with a particular focus on the period leading up to the signature of the 1987 INF Treaty. It examines conditions of possibility and factors that contributed to achieving a successful arms control outcome, including leadership, domestic politics, the international balance of power, and exogenous events. The talk further discusses which lessons from the past could still apply, given a vastly more complicated contemporary technological and political context, in which arms control would have to be repaired and reconstituted. The talk concludes with policy implications and recommendations for future arms control endeavors.