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HOME > TOPICS > Missiles, Defenses, and Space      
Limiting Missiles: What We're Up against

 After the renewal of New START, the Biden Administration has its work cut out for it to reach additional arms control agreements with Russia or China. In the short run, neither Moscow nor Beijing seems likely to strike a major deal. Things look a bit more optimistic in the long run but whatever agreements can be reached will have to focus far more sharply on limiting missiles and drones. 

The attached NPEC-commissioned research, “Long-Term Prospects for Missile Controls,” by David Cooper of the U.S. Naval War College, explains why. Dr. Cooper makes a compelling case that controlling precise missiles and their related enabling systems (e.g., GPS and imaging satellites) will be at least as important as controlling nuclear warheads. He also makes several specific recommendations to focus future arms control negotiations. 

Attached is a brief video of a presentation he gave last night at NPEC’s research retreat. It is sure to draw you in and make you want to read his longer analysis (also attached). 


Feb 22, 2021
AUTHOR: David Cooper
Nuclear Missile Controls - David Cooper (PDF) 697.69 KB

Long-Term Prospects for Nuclear Missile Controls

David Cooper

The long-term prospects for nuclear missile controls are as urgent as they are unpromising. Legacy international controls are moribund or unravelling. The paradigm of bilateral US-Russian nuclear arms control—which for decades has provided the world’s only binding missile controls—is nearing the end of its rope. Meanwhile the global missile nonproliferation regime—always relatively week—is increasingly ineffective in the face of steady missile technology diffusion and the mounting pressures of a dangerously fluid international security environment. Most alarmingly, these extant arrangements are woefully ill-equipped to control the emergence of new technologies, notably maneuverable hypersonic missiles. 

The deterioration of international missile controls is nothing new. It has been happening in slow motion fits and starts for almost two decades. It is newly worrying, however, because the United States now confronts a new age of multipolar nuclear competition with a gathering missile arms race as its central feature. All the major nuclear powers are modernizing their nuclear missile forces and most are racing to field revolutionary new types of missiles including intermediate- and intercontinental-range maneuverable hypersonic missiles, air launched ballistic missiles (ALBM), and in the case of Russia, a nuclear-armed and powered cruise missile of almost limitless range. Now unshackled by the demise of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, both Washington and Moscow are racing to deploy intermediate-range ballistic and cruise missiles—Russia having gotten a head start by blatantly violating INF—to offset China’s overwhelming advantage in these dual-purpose conventional and nuclear systems. Meanwhile North Korea and Iran continue to expand and improve their already formidable arsenals of nuclear-cable missiles as they stretch toward intercontinental range. This volatile combination of missile racing among the major nuclear powers and nuclear and missile proliferation by hostile regional powers could provoke other countries to seek long-range missiles as a hedge for going nuclear later. In sum, the nuclear missile environment is deteriorating across the board with no end in sight.

This chapter explores the prospects for strengthening international controls on nuclear missiles over the next decade or more. The chapter begins by exploring why missiles matter as organic components of nuclear forces and how this makes missile controls an essential feature of any viable nonproliferation or arms control regime. It then examines how the erosion of the post-Cold War order has opened the door for nuclear missile races in the face of increasingly contested regional and global nuclear landscapes. It then suggests the most plausible prospects for negotiating new or stronger nonproliferation and arms control measures to put guardrails on this increasingly uncontrolled global missile competition. Finally, it concludes by warning that these prospects are poor in today’s fluid geopolitical and geostrategic circumstances and that the United States and its allies will need to play a long game to convince China, Russia, and others to come to the negotiating table.


 To read the entire paper, click here.


To listen to David Cooper talk about his paper, click on the video below.


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