The UN Security Council is meeting today (22 August), at the request of China and Russia to discuss the recent US test of an intermediate range missile. After formally withdrawing from the INF Treaty on 2 August, this is the first US test of a ground launched missile over 500km.
The new missile testing in the US, when viewed alongside the new missile development in Russia, demonstrates a clear and worrying new arms race. Especially worrying is the purposeful ambiguity about what type of explosive components may be carried on these missiles- nuclear or conventional. Dual capable designs paired with new doctrines that lower the threshold for use of nuclear weapons elevate risk. In the short window (under 15 minutes) to guess what type of missile might be approaching, one could easily assume worst case scenarios and respond accordingly.
It is useful that the UNSC is drawing attention to the problem of missile developments in the intermediate range, but the composition and veto powers within the council prevent it from taking effective action. It is a case of the fox guarding the henhouse. There is no effective action on nuclear risks that can be taken by those that still consider nuclear weapons legitimate.
Instead, past pressure practices to prevent proliferation (alliteration intended) should be brought to bear as a way to halt this new arms race. As it is unlikely the UNSC can act, it is up to other states to band together in other forums, or in an ad-hoc manner and impose an escalating pressure to end these threats. Because nuclear responses to conventional warheads is a growing possibility, which could result in unmitigatable disasters.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (2017) is a powerful way for states that are concerned about the return to arms racing to take a stand. The Treaty sends a clear signal to states that any nuclear weapons activities are illegitimate, and condemnable. It is unambiguous and transforms the taboo against nuclear use into a codified norm. It is the shared responsibility of all states to to take every action available to them to end nuclear arms racing and prevent any use of nuclear weapons.