For some six decades, strategic ballistic missile defenses have played an integral role in the evolution of the strategic relationship between Moscow and Washington. Throughout this time, advocates of such defenses have depicted a future in which these weapons would reduce the risks of nuclear destruction. Yet the historical reality belies such predictions. For thirty years, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty helped moderate pressures to expand nuclear arsenals. Following U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in 2002, the absence of constraints on these systems has made it more difficult to achieve stabilizing reductions in strategic offensive forces. With the world now on the cusp of a new nuclear arms race, these difficulties will increase. It is therefore imperative that strategic missile defense limits be incorporated directly into the structure of strategic arms control – for example, by developing an aggregate ceiling on offensive and defensive weapons.
About the Author
Greg Thielmann is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arms Control Association. For over 25 years he served as a member of the Foreign Service at the U.S. State Department and in U.S. embassies (Bonn, Moscow, and Brasilia), working in arms control and security issues, last serving as Director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.