Inhibition of Mek/Erk signaling by pharmacological Mek inhibitors promotes self-renewal and pluripotency of mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs). Intriguingly, Erk signaling is essential for human ESC self-renewal. Here we demonstrate that Erk signaling is critical for mouse ESC self-renewal and genomic stability. Erk-depleted ESCs cannot be maintained. Lack of Erk leads to rapid telomere shortening and genomic instability, in association with misregulated expression of pluripotency genes, reduced cell proliferation, G1 cell-cycle arrest, and increased apoptosis. Erk signaling is also required for the activation of differentiation genes but not for the repression of pluripotency genes during ESC differentiation. Furthermore, we find an Erk-independent function of Mek, which may explain the diverse effects of Mek inhibition and Erk knockout on ESC self-renewal. Together, in contrast to the prevailing view, Erk signaling is required for telomere maintenance, genomic stability, and self-renewal of mouse ESCs.