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News | May 11, 2021

(Dis)trust and verify?: Arms Control in Today’s (Dis)Information Environment Part I.

By Sarah Jacobs Gamberini Inkstick

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VIRIN: 210511-D-QC535-1001

The next generation of arms control negotiators and implementors will face a drastically different, more complicated and contentious information environment than when the United States last negotiated a strategic nuclear arms control agreement (New START) in 2009. In the past decade, disinformation has been used to undermine arms control norms and institutions. The propagation and dissemination of this type of disinformation poses a serious challenge to future arms control initiatives, as some level of trust is required at every stage of a treaty’s life cycle, to include its negotiation, ratification, implementation, and verification. The United States needs to ask the question: Can it engage in arms control negotiations with a party that seems willing to “trust but verify” on one arms control agreement while actively undermining others?

Mistrust between rivals is understandable and can lead to detailed agreements and strong verification regimes. But complete distrust is toxic to negotiations and makes it impossible to find common ground for developing a mutually beneficial compact. As the United States pursues new dialogues with Russia on the topics of arms control and emerging security concerns, it should do so wary of Russia’s tactics and prepare to negotiate, implement, and comply with future arms control in the (dis)information environment.

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