We are saddened to learn of the passing of Mikhail Gorbachev on August 30, a visionary for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. In 1985, Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev stated: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Two years later, Gorbachev and Reagan signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) eliminating an entire category of nuclear weapons. Then, in 1991, President George H.W. Bush and Gorbachev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), limiting the number of strategic nuclear weapons each country could field. Together, these agreements paved the way for further reduction efforts. Russia’s stockpile went from over 40,000 in 1986 to 4,477 today, while the US stockpile dropped from around 23,000 to 3,708 today. Gorbachev’s efforts, alongside others, reduced the nuclear threat in a way that many thought unthinkable.
Today, this progress is at risk of collapse. Russia and the US have abandoned the INF Treaty and Russia has halted inspections required under the New START treaty. US-Russian talks to replace New START are on hold because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and global nuclear stockpiles are on the rise again for the first time in decades.
Gorbachev helped take the world off a perilous nuclear path and his passing is a timely reminder of the importance of diplomacy, restraint, and finding shared purpose to advance humanity. He did not see a world in which nuclear weapons had to be the status quo — instead, his work gave hope to those working to upend the status quo. His legacy should be a reminder that progress is possible.