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New START and the Helsinki Summit

Jon Wolfsthal makes [1] the case that the Helsinki summit is the right time to begin talks with Russia on extending New START:

The July 16 summit in Helsinki between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin presents a unique opportunity to reverse the dangerous nuclear competition between the United States and Russia and should be welcomed, despite its inherent risks. The opportunity to stabilize U.S.-Russian nuclear relations by extending New START, a key nuclear treaty that is set to expire in 2021, is paramount and worth the issues that come with any meeting between Trump and Putin.

Extending New START is in the best interests of both countries. The treaty is a continuation of the first strategic arms reduction treaty negotiated between the U.S. and USSR, and it was ratified in late 2010. It places important limits on the arsenals the world’s two largest nuclear weapons states, and its verification measures ensure a degree of stability and certainty in our relationship with Moscow. Allowing the treaty to lapse without a replacement would be a major error that could lead to a new arms race and further deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations. Extending the treaty is particularly important now that relations with Russia have reached one of their lowest points in decades. There is no good reason to let the treaty expire. As Wolfsthal notes, both the U.S. and Russia are in compliance with the treaty’s requirements. The treaty has done exactly what it was designed to do. It is in the national security interests of both states to make sure that the treaty remains in force.

Unfortunately, the president and his National Security Advisor have both expressed opposition to New START in the past. Trump has reportedly described [2] it as a “bad deal,” and Bolton has repeatedly denounced [3] it and gone so far as to call it “execrable.” For the president, New START is a product of the Obama administration and therefore something he probably wants to undo just because Obama was for it. Bolton loathes all arms control agreements, and he seems to despise this one more than most. If Bolton were to have his way on this, it would be very bad for U.S. interests and U.S.-Russian relations. On the other hand, if Trump really wants to improve relations with Moscow while still acting in the best interests of the U.S. he could ignore Bolton and support extending the treaty.

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4 Comments To "New START and the Helsinki Summit"

#1 Comment By Bill H On July 10, 2018 @ 10:04 am

What about Russia’s conclusion that this country is, by nature, one with which no agreements are possible, because it is our nature to make agreements with no intention of keeping them?

#2 Comment By b. On July 10, 2018 @ 12:46 pm

“New START is a product of the Obama administration and therefore something he probably wants to undo just because Obama was for it.”

Obama also pushed hard for Reliable Replacement Warhead, until Congress turned him down, and then committed the US to a trillion dollar Nuclear Triad Modernization even before Trump took office. Trump has not “undone” this in the least, and in fact has added his own new nukes as announced in the most recent Nuclear Posture Review.

“Trump undoes Obama” is a common trope, but it does not reflect reality, and is useless as a tool for predictions. Trump is neither consistent with himself nor reliably positioned relative to anybody else:

[4]

#3 Comment By b. On July 10, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

“On the other hand, if Trump really wants to improve relations with Moscow while still acting in the best interests of the U.S. he could ignore Bolton and support extending the treaty.”

Trump already closed that door with his NPR and related announcements regarding “tactical” nukes, and Putin responded by making his own twit-worthy announcements:

[5]

US published opinion has already solidly committed itself to downplay Trump’s new nukes and belittling Putin’s. Given that nuclear tipped torpedoes and missiles can be easily rigged to detonate near coastal under water, and that supercavitating and hypersonic carriers exist in Russia’s arsenal, it does not really matter what else Russia might or might not be able to deploy – we are already in another nuclear arms race.

Between US attempts at ballistic missile interceptors forward deployed around Russia, and the rehabilitation of “winnable war” cretins like Payne, Russia – and eventually China – will be increasingly concerned about US posturing regarding “decapitation” and other “counter-force” first strike scenarios. Instead of moving away from “launch on warning” and the tremendous existential risk we are taking on, we will see China considering to abandon its moderate choice of “minimum means of reprisal”, and Russia will increasingly resort to larger warheads deployed faster to ensure counter-value deterrence. The consequences, as Operation Able Archer drove home to President Reagan, are dire.

I commented here yesterday:”Trump has a unique opportunity to wrest from this historic neolibcon miscalculation, but the man we have witnessed over the past two years would never be able to see it, let alone act on it. In this, past performance does predict future results.”
[6]

Whether on the merits – as Daniel Larison summarizes above – or even with domestic political calculation for midterms and 2020, Trump has every incentive to pursue this opportunity. It almost feels as if that alone guarantees that he will not. Brinkmanship cannot offer a rush if there is a guaranteed win.

#4 Comment By Christian Chuba On July 11, 2018 @ 8:05 am

Given the turnover rate of articles here, yesterday might as well be last year but I’ll give it a shot.

The U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment is having flashbacks to 1980 and will push Trump to drop to start a weapons race in space, drop the INF as well as START. Mission accomplished in #1, #2 a high probability, and #3 work in progress.

The FPE has no interest in doing things that are reasonable and that will set a long lasting precedent in creating stability. They only want to win then they think we have an advantage. They believe Russia (and Iran) are weak and want regime change.