MSU SciComm holds Nuclear Weapons Policy Meta-Review

Today, MSU SciComm held their Meta-Review, which is part of the National Science Policy Network’s 2020 Election Initiative. The goal of this initiative is to coordinate efforts for scientists to advocate for the importance of science in policy making. The broad initiative has two stages. First, member chapters of the National Science Policy Network (such as MSU SciComm) conduct a Meta-Review, where scientists select an important science topic that can be impacted by upcoming election and identify the major research and data related to the topic. Then, the chapter determines how they wish to publicize their findings. For example, when voters hear about a policy proposed by a candidate and want to learn more, they will likely look online. One way to publicize the result of the Meta-Review then is to ensure common online resources, such as Wikipedia, reflect the most up to date and accurate information. Alternatively, voters may not know much about an issue beyond the candidate’s talking points which means writing op-eds for local newspapers and media outlets can be an effective form of advocacy for a specific issue. If the chapter is instead more interested in reaching policy makers, they can publish a policy white paper in the Journal of Science Policy and Governance or work with Science Debate to coordinate outreach and advocacy campaigns on their campus. For their meta-review, MSU SciComm has chosen to focus on nuclear weapons policy. Today’s session focused on informing members on the current state of the United States arms control agreements and treaties.

Graph of United States nuclear weapons stockpile. Since 1962, the size of the U.S. stockpile has dramatically decreased
United States nuclear weapons stockpile through the years and important nuclear arms treaties with Russia

The session today focused on three treaties or agreements that have recently expired or are set to expire during the term of the next president. The first of these was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran Nuclear Deal. Under this agreement, Iran agreed to cap its enrichment of Uranium-235, the key ingredients for nuclear weapons. In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency was to regularly inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities to ensure compliance. While the agreement was reached in 2015, the United States withdrew from the multilateral agreement in 2018.

The second of these was the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF treaty). This treaty banned the United States and the Soviet Union (and following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation) from possessing, producing, or testing ground-based ballistic or cruise missiles with ranges between 500-5000 km (which is approximately the range of distances represented by the New York City to Pittsburgh distance and the New York City to Los Angeles distance). While the treaty was supposed to have lasted indefinitely, the United States formally exited the treaty on August 2nd, 2019 with Russia exiting the treaty two days later.

The third of these is the only bilateral treaty still in effect with Russia regarding nuclear weapons. Under the New START, the United States and Russia agreed to reduce their nuclear weapons and to impose caps on the number of deployed and non-deployed missiles, bombers, and warheads. In addition, each country is allowed up to 18 inspections a year to ensure that the other country is compliant with the agreement. While the treaty addresses deployed nuclear warheads, that is, those that are on ballistic missiles or at US bomber bases, it does not limit the number of stockpiled nuclear warheads, which are warheads that are assigned to serve a potential use on military delivery vehicles, both active and inactive. In addition, the treaty does not address ballistic missile defense systems or nonstrategic nuclear weapons which could be used on a battlefield.

While the New START treaty is still in effect, it will expire on February 5th, 2021. At this time, the United States and Russian can agree to extend the treaty for an additional five years, negotiate a new treaty or agreement, or do nothing and allow the treaty to expire. If the treaty is allowed to expire, this will mark the first time since 1972 that nuclear arms control bilateral treaties don’t exist, allowing both countries to increase their number of deployed weapons in the world.

If you are interested in getting involved with the meta-review on nuclear policy or want to get involved in our efforts to publicize the results, please send an email to

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