Analysis & Opinions - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

A Pragmatic Turn in Geneva

| June 17, 2021

Experts weigh in on the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva

The Biden-Putin summit in Geneva did not disappoint the very low expectations set out for it. The summit, short and sober as it was, might have achieved more than meets the eye, however. Notably, the two presidents, whose countries together possess over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, reaffirmed that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," a principle first iterated by US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. The reaffirmation is symbolic, as it is reminiscent of the times when US-Soviet relations took a turn for the better. It also sends a signal that the two nuclear superpowers are committed to reducing the risk of nuclear war, an important move in the run up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, a forum where the nuclear states have come under increased pressure from non-nuclear states to step up their efforts toward disarmament.

To move beyond symbolism and signaling, however, the Biden-Putin proclamation has to be translated into practical progress. This was another deliverable of the summit: The presidents authorized their teams to embark on an "integrated Strategic Stability Dialogue," addressing the future of arms control and risk reduction. The two sides also agreed to hold consultations on cyberthreats and the Arctic region. While the leaders did not discuss the particulars, the bilateral engagement in the broad domain of strategic stability will likely include several tracks. One is the negotiation of a treaty to replace the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty when it expires in 2026. In parallel and related to such a treaty, the parties will necessarily have to address the issues of missile defense, space, and non-strategic nuclear weapons, in particular those that had been previously limited by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Budjeryn, Mariana.“A Pragmatic Turn in Geneva.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 17, 2021.

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