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Don’t Let New START Die

Russia warns that the Trump administration has shown no interest in extending New START:

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov charged that the U.S. refusal to negotiate an extension to the New Start treaty signals Washington’s intention to let it expire in 2021. He warned that time is running out to save the pact, which was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Ryabkov said that the U.S. has shown “no readiness or desire” to engage in substantive talks on extending the pact, which limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers.

Allowing New START to expire would be very dangerous and foolish, but all signs suggest that this is exactly what the administration is going to do. Unlike quitting the INF Treaty, all that Trump and Bolton have to do to kill New START is nothing. Unless they choose to extend the treaty and make the effort to do that, it will go away in two years’ time and it isn’t likely to be replaced once it is gone.

There is no question that the administration isn’t interested in keeping the treaty. Bolton has been a very vocal critic of the treaty, which he has called “execrable.” Trump has predictably and ignorantly declared the Obama-era treaty to be a “bad deal.” There have been many opportunities for Trump and Putin to discuss extending the treaty, but so far that doesn’t seem to have happened. It is remarkable that the one area of U.S.-Russian cooperation that is least controversial in Washington is the one that Trump ignores.

If New START expires, that will remove the only remaining verifiable limits on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. That will introduce a level of uncertainty and instability into U.S.-Russian relations that has not existed since the Cold War, and it puts the entire world at much greater risk because of the potential for a new nuclear arms race. The last major piece of the arms control architecture that Bolton has been demolishing throughout his career will be brought tumbling down. For the first time since the 1970s, there will be no major arms control agreements in force between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

Extending the treaty would be an easy win for Trump on national security. Even his harshest critics would have to acknowledge that he was doing the responsible thing by keeping the treaty alive. Unfortunately, between Bolton’s bad advice and the president’s desire to tear up everything connected to Obama he seems incapable of doing that.

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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