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A Last Chance to Save New START

Russian President Vladimir Putin By Harold Escalona/shutterstock And President Trump By Drop of Light/Shutterstock

Daryl Kimball makes another appeal to the Trump administration to save New START:

If the president truly seeks to avoid an arms race, maintain a cap on the Russian nuclear arsenal, and begin the work to bring China into the nuclear disarmament enterprise, the first and best step is to promptly agree with Russia to extend New START by five years.

Russia has offered to agree to a five-year extension immediately before the end of the year. If Trump agreed to this, the treaty could be kept alive through 2026. It would be extremely easy for Trump to take Putin up on this offer, and in this case cooperation with Moscow would earn the president praise. It would be an important win for U.S. interests, and it would be something that the president could legitimately take credit for. Unfortunately, none of that is happening.

There is no sign that the president is serious about preserving the treaty. The new Posteditorial calling for a treaty extension puts it bluntly:

Russian officials have been raising the prospect of an extension for more than a year. The Trump administration does not appear to have engaged Moscow in any serious negotiations toward an extension.

The Russians may as well be talking to the wall. No one in the administration is listening to them, and the president’s incoherent ramblings on the subject aren’t helping. The fact is that the president has been against the treaty since he became president, and Bolton’s baleful influence just reinforced Trump’s existing hostility to any agreement bearing Obama’s signature. As president, he has repeatedly mused about expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal, so he would make for a very odd supporter of an arms reduction treaty.

Hard-line opponents of the treaty have been encouraging the president to abandon it. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton is the loudest anti-treaty voice in Congress, and here he cites a former Trump administration NSC official’s disingenuous case against extending the treaty:

Republican hard-liners have opposed New START from the beginning because it was supposedly inadequate, but in truth they would very much prefer no arms control at all. Much like hawkish opposition to the JCPOA, the feigned interest in a stronger arms control agreement is just a cover for their opposition to any and every treaty that might be negotiated. Hence the impossible demand to include China in the treaty when China has never been party to any of the treaties between Washington and Moscow. It is an obvious pretext for killing a successful treaty for the sake of a fantasy offered up in bad faith.

The only “real arms control” available right now is the existing treaty that Cotton and others like him want to let die. Renewing an already ratified treaty would be the diplomatic equivalent of a layup for Trump, and he ought to do it. Regrettably, there is no reason to expect that he will.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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