The next round of U.S.-Russia arms control presents some truly daunting challenges. Realistically, another arms reduction treaty is likely to be out of reach for the Obama administration, even if it wins a second term. Fortunately, there is much that it could do in the remainder of its first term—unilaterally, bilaterally, and multilaterally—to lay the groundwork for another treaty while reducing nuclear risks. To this end, the administration should:
- Secure presidential involvement in the ongoing U.S. targeting review;
- Publicly challenge Russia to engage on tactical nuclear weapons;
- Design a single-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile to replace Minuteman III;
- Identify a clear military goal for ballistic missile defense cooperation;
- Prepare the domestic ground for counting all Conventional Prompt Global Strike systems as nuclear-armed in future arms control agreements;
- Pursue non-binding confidence-building measures on conventional cruise missiles;
- Restart reciprocal transparency visits to nuclear-weapon production complexes; and
- Engage other nuclear-weapon states.
Further reductions can ultimately be achieved only if other states choose to play their parts. Yet, by putting constructive proposals on the table, the United States stands to gain whether or not international cooperation is forthcoming. If other states do engage, the United States will have succeeded in starting the long process toward a world with far fewer nuclear weapons; if they do not, it will be clear to the international community that the real barriers to progress in disarmament do not lie in Washington.