New Evidence Highlights Risk of Nuclear Conflict Between NATO and Russia

WASHINGTON – Today, Global Zero, the international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, released an alarming new report analyzing nearly a thousand military incidents involving the United States/NATO and Russia from 2014-2019. The report is the first in a series of regional analyses examining military encounters between nuclear-armed states that could escalate to a nuclear conflict. 

VIEW THE REPORT HERE: U.S., NATO, and Russia Military Incidents Report

Over the course of 2014-2019, Global Zero cataloged 937 events — 871 “military incidents” (air incidents, sea incidents, military exercises, and tests) and 66 “background events” (defense news and military deployments) — involving U.S./NATO forces and the Russian military, using publicly-available sources. Key takeaways from the report include:

  • The Baltic Sea region in particular has become a key focal point for military interactions between the countries that possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons.
  • In 2014-2015, there was a substantial increase in the number of incidents, likely attributable to the war in Ukraine precipitating increasing tensions between Russia and the U.S. However, the Baltic Sea region remained the primary site of confrontation with approximately 44% of all tracked military incidents occurring in this region.

  • Overall, 70% of all military incidents tracked were air incidents, and the vast majority were intercepts of military aircraft. In the earliest months after the conflict in Ukraine began, air incidents characterized by risky behaviors occurred across a broad geographical area, from the California coast to the Sea of Okhotsk. However, by the fall of 2014, nearly every air incident recorded by Global Zero took place over the Baltic Sea.

  • A dramatic increase in the number of incidents occurred in 2017, coinciding with the Trump administration’s  more openly aggressive approach to managing the U.S.-Russia relationship.

“The status quo of NATO-Russia relations is unsustainable. 2014-2019 saw an acute period of deteriorating relations between Russia and the U.S., with multiple nuclear arms-control treaties abandoned and both countries investing in new nuclear weapons. With communication channels limited and both countries’ militaries frequently coming into close contact in the field, even a small misstep could lead to rapid military escalation and even the use of nuclear weapons at almost any time. These risks are compounded by a lack of trust. Precautions need to be taken to prevent miscalculation and dangerous crises,” said Global Zero Research Associate Emma Claire Foley, who authored the report. “As U.S.-Russia strategic stability talks resume, there are a broad array of options to improve the situation. What is lacking at the highest levels of government is the recognition that the risk of nuclear use is dangerously high and that U.S. and Russian leaders must take real steps to reduce those dangers.”


In 2017, Global Zero commissioned a task force of seasoned diplomats, military leaders and national security experts from nuclear-armed and allied countries and developed a set of recommendations to reduce the risk of nuclear use between the U.S./NATO and Russia. The report proposes pragmatic near- and long-term steps to improve stability and reduce the risks of conflict and escalation in Europe, focusing on the need for and demonstrating a wide range of options, including transparency measures and making progress on a bilateral No First Use agreement, to enhance security in one of the world’s  “nuclear flashpoints” —  regions where the risk of nuclear conflict is highest.