If Russia and the United States cut their nuclear arsenals, it could actually have the opposite effect and lead to World War 3.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump recently suggested that Russia should reduce its stockpile of nuclear weapons in exchange for Washington lifting crippling economic sanctions against Moscow. Within less than 48 hours, the Kremlin responded to Trump’s offer. The Russian foreign minister said Moscow expects to have a dialogue with Trump, who will be inaugurated as the new U.S. President on Friday.

Vladimir Putin Russia
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Sergei Lavrov said Russia is ready to hold negotiations with the Trump administration on cutting nuclear arsenals. The Russian foreign minister added that their dialogue should also touch upon new hypersonic weapons, space weapons and the U.S. missile shield in Europe.

Trump: Russia should reduce nuclear arsenal “very substantially”

Lavrov’s statement comes less than 48 hours after The Sunday Times published an interview with Trump in which the U.S. President-elect made the offer to Russia. In the interview, Trump said nuclear weapons should be “reduced very substantially,” before adding that Russia is “hurting very badly” from the economic sanctions imposed by the West.

“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said, adding that “something can happen” and that “a lot of people” are going to “benefit,” without further elaborating.

Although most media outlets interpreted Trump’s words as an offer to reduce Russia’s nuclear stockpile in exchange for reviewing U.S. sanctions against Russia, Lavrov thinks they are two separate issues. Thus, in the Kremlin’s opinion, Trump is willing to engage Russia in nuclear arms control talks but only after reviewing and possibly lifting sanctions against Russia. One way or another, Lavrov says Moscow is ready to meet with the Trump administration to discuss these issues.

Is Trump restarting Obama’s START?

While political experts continue to scratch their heads over what the U.S. President-elect’s words meant exactly, Trump’s offer to reduce nuclear arsenals “very substantially” could lay the groundwork for the first major nuclear arms control deal with Russia since the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed by outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010.

Russia and the U.S. remain the world’s two biggest nuclear powers. According to recent data published by the U.S. State Department, Washington owns 1,367 nuclear warheads on deployed strategic missiles, while Moscow has 1,796 of such deployed warheads. While the U.S. and Russia have more nuclear weapons than all other nuclear powers combined, Moscow and Washington both agreed to limit the number of nukes they can deploy under the 2010 START treaty.

Reducing nuclear arsenal could lead to World War 3

But political experts around the world are puzzled not only over Trump’s most recent comments about the reduction of nukes. The U.S. President-elect’s call on nuclear arsenals comes less than a month after his controversial tweet calling to “greatly strengthen and expand” U.S. nuclear capabilities.

On that same day, December 22, Putin also called to boost his country’s “strategic nuclear forces.” It remains a mystery why the world’s two most influential leaders would call for strengthening their nuclear capabilities and then three weeks later suddenly agree to hold negotiations on reductions of their nuclear arsenals.

There’s no telling if something has happened in that period or if the two leaders secretly reached an agreement. But many political experts believe that Trump simply hasn’t made up his mind regarding America’s strategy to contain the greatest threat to U.S. security.

Loren Thompson, a contributor for Forbes, argues that cutting nuclear arsenals could actually have the opposite effect and result in World War 3 between the U.S. and Russia.

In his article, Thompson slams outgoing U.S. President Obama for advocating total nuclear disarmament during the early months of his first presidential term, a move that would have been “a huge windfall for any foreign dictator capable of hiding a few weapons while everyone else went to zero.” If Obama’s efforts to seemingly make the world a safer place turned into reality, NATO would have been deprived of its “most potent deterrent against conventional attack,” Thompson argues, adding that Trump could make similar mistakes.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump has promised to improve ties with Russia. Even though Americans and the West are criticizing Trump for his willingness to become allies with Putin, the U.S. President-elect continues to make pro-Russia comments.

The U.S. and the rest of the West imposed economic sanctions against Russia in 2014 after Putin annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and supported rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Nuclear distrust between U.S. and Russia

Thompson also argues that Trump should adopt a coherent nuclear strategy that acknowledges two fundamental facts: “(1) Russia has enough nuclear weapons to wipe out our country, and (2) we have no real defense against that danger other than retaliation.”

The only reason Russia hasn’t fired its nuclear weapons on the U.S. yet is because it knows such a move would be an “act of suicide,” Thompson adds. Launching nukes against Washington would trigger an immediate response, and America’s military would start a war.

But even though the two countries seemingly agree to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, let’s not fall under the illusion that such a move would guarantee that there would never be a World War 3. In fact, cutting nuclear arsenals could actually result in all-out war between the U.S. and Russia.

That’s because either of the sides could be cheating and hiding its nuclear creations while the other side would be actually reducing its nuclear arsenal. When two countries have the amount of distrust the U.S. and Russia have for each other, it matters more not how many nuclear weapons a country has before it becomes a victim of a surprise nuclear attack, but how many remain after.

It’s the nuclear weapons that are unknown to the enemy that matter. It’s also the nuclear weapons that can survive and retaliate against any nuclear attack that give the advantage.