An international group of ex-nuclear commanders Wednesday issued the first in a series of recommendations to world leaders to head off the rising threat of a nuclear war — calling on the Trump administration to open direct talks with North Korea, urging the United States, Russia and NATO to immediately establish military-to-military talks, and calling on India and Pakistan to set up a nuclear hotline.
"The Nuclear Crisis Group assesses that the risk of nuclear weapons use, intended or otherwise, is unacceptably high and that all states must take constructive steps to reduce these risks," the former military and diplomatic leaders — from nations as diverse as Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and the United States — write in an 11-page report about what they consider the biggest nuclear flashpoints.
The crisis group was established earlier this year under the auspices of Global Zero, an leading arms control organization that supports the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons.
A primary concern is the deteriorating situation with North Korea, which continues to test long-range missiles and prepare additional nuclear tests, and has been the focus of rising threats from President Donald Trump. Among the group's recommendations: "To reduce immediate nuclear risks, the United States and North Korea should resume bilateral discussions immediately without preconditions."
It also calls on Washington and Pyongyang to "refrain from nuclear threats and adopt nuclear no-first-use statements" and to further reduce tensions the U.S. should "suspend flights of strategic bombers and visits by strategic submarines in return for key commensurate restraints by North Korea."
On Russia, the escalating standoff between the United States and its European allies and Moscow requires urgent action by all parties, the crisis group writes, including limiting the size, nature, and secrecy of military exercises.
"I think the consensus here is that Russia is a much dicier story than people understand, with the intercepts in the air and all the rest," said Bruce Blair, co-founder of Global Zero and a former nuclear missile officer, referring to recent military confrontations between the U.S. and Russian militaries. "The gravity and the potential for escalation have been widely underestimated. We worry about Russian escalation to the use of nuclear weapons."
Among its recommendations, the group calls for leaders to "urgently resume effective US-Russia and NATO-Russia high-level dialogues and military-to-military discussions."
They also call on Trump and President Vladimir Putin to agree to extend the 2012 New START nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia when they meet in Germany next week.
"Crisis instability between the United States and Russia remains unacceptably high," says the report. "There is growing concern that military and doctrinal moves by NATO and Russia could provoke a conflict with nuclear ramifications."
The group also offers a series of recommendations to lower nuclear dangers in South Asia, where the arsenals of India and Pakistan are considered particularly destabilizing because they do not have the same of security procedures as other nuclear powers.
"They lack safety features and the risk they would detonate from an accident is uncomfortably high," said Blair. "They have not developed the safety features that the U.S. and Russia have,"
Another area of high concern not receiving enough attention is the potential for a cyberattack on nuclear command and control systems.
"All states with nuclear should also consider establishing a formal dialogue to prevent cyber-based interference in nuclear operations, command-and-control and early warning capabilities," the report says. "The growth and uncertainties surrounding national offensive cyber capabilities must be walled off from nuclear operations and early warning to protect against a new dangerous potential source of instability and crisis manipulation.
Added Blair: "Two or more of these crises could develop simultaneously and we have a vacuum of leadership in the world."Read more