by Jason Sibert and Patty Friend

The election of 2020 is grabbing headlines and most feel it will be the most eventful in recent history. Regardless of the outcome, the issue of nuclear weapons will be with us for some time to come. Nuclear weapons were identified in 1992 by the United Nations Security Council as “a threat to peace and security.” In the space of ten years, several multilateral treaties were implemented – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty,  START I and START II. After a decade of progress (1987-1997), there were setbacks. First, the Senate failed to ratify Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. Our country withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 under President George W Bush and we withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the INF Treaty, and the Open Skies Treaty under President Donald Trump.

India and Pakistan are a problem when it comes to nuclear proliferation. Since the late 1990s, they have flaunted their nuclear arsenals, and therefore upset the spirit of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty which was signed by many countries – including the United States – in the 1960s with the idea of limiting the number of nuclear weapons in the world. However, there is also a problem in our country and that is the rejection of the idea of arms control by one of the two political parties – the Republican Party. Our country led the charge when in comes to nuclear arms control in the Cold War era, but the modern incarnation of the Republican Party seems to want to negate this history. Most Republican legislators believe that multilateral agreements infringe upon our ability to act freely in the world. At the same time, China and Russia are complicated in the matter of nuclear proliferation, as both benefit from the current arrangement of nuclear weapons anarchy.

Europe seems to be an outlier in this equation, as EU countries seem willing to engage in multilateral arms control. However, there are dark political movements on the horizon, as right-wing populism is infecting long-established democracies. Examples include the Alternative for a New Germany in Germany and the National Front in France. Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary and Poland President Andrzej Duda represent a similar trend. In these movements, Europe is becoming more insular and authoritarian in nature.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has addressed the need for our country to serve as an example of a democratic republic through domestic reform. He also said that he will host a summit of democracies in his first year in office to promote the political form against rising authoritarianism. These are relevant ideas considering our challenges. The democratic republic encourages problem solving via analysis and compromise. Arms control promotes the drawing down of arms via compromise and discussion. The existence of both democracy and arms control are fragile in our current political environment. What is our fate?  The citizens of our democratic republic and others will soon know the answer. Let us hope those who believe in both will take it upon themselves to try and write a better history than the one now playing out.    

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St Louis.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

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