Beyond the Nuclear Shadow: A Phased Approach for Improving Nuclear Safety and U.S-Russian Relations

by David E. Mosher, Lowell H. Schwartz, David R. Howell, Lynn E. Davis

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The United States and Russia have improved their relationship over the past decade and taken steps to reduce their nuclear postures. But the nuclear shadow—i.e., the risk of accidental and unauthorized use of nuclear weapons—remains. Both countries still have nuclear forces ready to launch at each other within minutes-a direct carryover from the Cold War era. Moreover, Russia's economic problems over the past decade continue to cause serious concerns about the viability of its early-warning systems and the safety of its nuclear weapons. This report develops detailed steps the United States and Russia can take to improve both nuclear safety and their relationship. It argues that these two elements are integrally linked and should not be tackled separately: improvements in one will lead to improvements in the other. The authors recommend a phased approach, one that begins with immediate U.S. unilateral actions and commitments designed to demonstrate U.S. seriousness. These immediate steps will then lead to near- and medium-term actions for further improvement, the long-term goal being to eliminate the nuclear element from the relationship altogether. Success will require strong Presidential commitment and leadership.

Table of Contents

  • Summary

  • Preface

    All Prefatory Materials

  • Chapter One

    Background and Motivation for Improving Nuclear Safety

  • Chapter Two

    Possible Scenarios for Accidental or Unauthorized Nuclear Use

  • Chapter Three

    Criteria for Evaluating Nuclear Safety Options

  • Chapter Four

    Options for Improving Nuclear Safety

  • Chapter Five

    Recommendation: a Phased Approach for Improving Nuclear Safety and U.S.-Russian Relations

  • Appendix

  • Supplemental

    Supplementary Materials

The research described in this report was supported by the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The research was conducted through the International Security and Defense Policy Center (ISDPC) of RAND's National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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