Home/Daniel Larison/Bolton Is Gone, But His Garbage Ideas Aren’t

Bolton Is Gone, But His Garbage Ideas Aren’t

Fred Kaplan explains how Bolton’s desire to destroy yet another important treaty is being fulfilled even after he departed the administration:

President Donald Trump has signed a document expressing an intent to withdraw from what must be the least controversial arms-control treaty on the books without consulting the military, the State Department, or the intelligence community—all of which oppose him on this issue.

The accord is the Open Skies Treaty, signed in 1992 by the United States, Russia, and 32 other countries, including 27 of the 29 NATO nations. (The two that haven’t signed are Albania and Montenegro.) It allows member-nations to fly unarmed reconnaissance planes over one another’s territory in order to collect data on military activities.

The Open Skies Treaty is one of the least controversial treaties that the U.S. is a party to, but for someone like Bolton any multilateral treaty that requires anything of the U.S. is anathema. The treaty is a useful mechanism for stabilizing relations between the U.S., Russia, and our European allies. There is absolutely no good reason for the U.S. to abandon this treaty, and the U.S. stands to lose if Trump follows through on his willingness to withdraw from it. This is the sort of arms control agreement demolition that should have stopped when Bolton left, but it has carried on, zombie-like, inside the National Security Council anyway:

According to three knowledgeable sources, Trump’s move stems from the persistent influence of John Bolton, even one month after he was fired as national security adviser. Bolton had been advocating the pullout for some time. After his dismissal, one of his aides, Tim Morrison, who continues to work on the National Security Council staff, kept pushing it. Finally, sometime last week, Trump signed the document expressing his intent to withdraw from the accord.

Scrapping the Open Skies Treaty is vandalism for its own sake. Bolton loathes international treaties. He especially hates the treaties that actually work and provide some real benefits to the U.S. Successful treaties are a rebuke to his entire worldview, and so he wants them destroyed. Quitting this treaty makes absolutely no sense on any level, and it would be detrimental to U.S. and allied interests:

Defense officials and consultants, some of whom are skeptical of other arms-control accords, agree that a withdrawal from Open Skies would hurt the U.S. and its allies much more than it would hurt Russia.

The treaty is the definition of a mutually beneficial, stabilizing international agreement. Only someone with a view of international relations as simplistic and zero-sum as the president would think to get rid of it. Bolton may be gone, but the brain-dead unilateralism and hatred of arms control that he championed live on in the Trump White House.

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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