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Bolton Gets Ready to Kill New START

Like all of his complaints about arms control agreements, Bolton's criticisms of New START are made in bad faith.

If Bolton gets his way, New START is not long for this world:

At the same time, the administration has signaled in recent days that it plans to let the New Start treaty, negotiated by Barack Obama, expire in February 2021 rather than renew it for another five years. John R. Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, who met with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in Jerusalem this week, said before leaving Washington that “there’s no decision, but I think it’s unlikely” the treaty would be renewed.

Mr. Bolton, a longtime skeptic of arms control agreements, said that New Start was flawed because it did not cover short-range tactical nuclear weapons or new Russian delivery systems. “So to extend for five years and not take these new delivery system threats into account would be malpractice,” he told The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative outlet.

Like all of his complaints about arms control agreements, Bolton’s criticisms of New START are made in bad faith. Opponents of New START have long pretended that they oppose the treaty because it did not cover everything imaginable, including tactical nuclear weapons, but this has always been an excuse for them to reject a treaty that they have never wanted ratified in the first place. If the concern about negotiating a treaty that covered tactical nuclear weapons were genuine, the smart thing to do would be to extend New START and then begin negotiations for a more comprehensive arms control agreement. Faulting New START for failing to include things that are by definition not going to be included in a strategic arms reduction treaty gives the game away. This is what die-hard opponents of the treaty have been doing for almost ten years, and they do it because they want to dismantle the last vestiges of arms control. The proposal to include China as part of a new treaty is another tell that the Trump administration just wants the treaty to die.

The article concludes:

Some experts suspect talk of a three-way accord is merely a feint to get rid of the New Start treaty. “If a trilateral deal is meant as a substitute or prerequisite for extending New Start, it is a poison pill, no ifs, ands or buts,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “If the president is seeking a trilateral deal as a follow-on to New Start, that’s a different thing.”

Knowing Bolton, it has to be a poison pill. Just as Bolton is ideologically opposed to making any deal with Iran, he is ideologically opposed to any arms control agreement that places limits on the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The “flaws” he identifies aren’t really flaws that he wants to fix (and they may not be flaws at all), but excuses for trashing the agreement. He will make noises about how the current deal or treaty doesn’t go far enough, but the truth is that he doesn’t want any agreements to exist. In Bolton’s worldview, nonproliferation and arms control agreements either give the other government too much or hamper the U.S. too much, and so he wants to destroy them all. He has had a lot of success at killing agreements and treaties that have been in the U.S. interest. Bolton has had a hand in blowing up the Agreed Framework with North Korea, abandoning the ABM Treaty, killing the INF Treaty, and reneging on the JCPOA. Unless the president can be persuaded to ignore or fire Bolton, New START will be his next victim.

If New START dies, it will be a loss for both the U.S. and Russia, it will make the world less secure, and it will make U.S.-Russian relations even worse. The stability that these treaties have provided has been important for U.S. security for almost fifty years. New START is the last of the treaties that constrain the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, and when it is gone there will be nothing to replace it for a long time. The collapse of arms control almost certainly means that the top two nuclear weapons states will expand their arsenals and put us back on the path of an insane and unwinnable arms race. Killing New START is irrational and purely destructive, and it needs to be opposed.