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New START Is On the Chopping Block

John Bolton spoke at the National Conservatism Conference this week.(By Christopher Halloran /Shutterstock)

Bolton confirmed in a speech this week that New START is as good as dead:

“The New START nuclear agreement, which was ratified in 2010, was flawed from the beginning. It did not cover short-range tactical nuclear weapons or new Russian delivery systems.

“It is due to expire in February 2021, and while no decision has been made, it is unlikely to be extended. Why extend the flawed system just to say you have a treaty” Bolton said at the 41st annual National Conservative Student Conference in Washington.

Bolton is the ideological arch-nemesis of arms control, so when he claims to identify “flaws” in an agreement this is just an excuse for killing an agreement that he would be opposed to no matter what it included. Like his hostility to the nuclear deal with Iran (Bolton dropped in his usual lie that Iran seeks nuclear weapons during this same speech), his opposition to New START has nothing to do with the substance of the treaty. On the merits, New START is a valuable, stabilizing agreement between the U.S. and Russia that serves the interests of both countries and makes the entire world more secure. Bolton’s objections are spurious.

The “flawed system” Bolton rejects is the the last remaining arms control treaty. The reason to keep it is so that there will be at least one treaty that limits the number of U.S. and Russian strategic weapons. The INF Treaty dies this week thanks to Trump’s misguided decision to withdraw from it, and New START is next on the chopping block. Failing to extend the treaty amounts to scrapping a working agreement that both governments are honoring. Refusing to extend the treaty is an act of international vandalism, since there will be nothing in the foreseeable future to replace New START when it is gone. Letting New START die when there is nothing to take its place eliminates the restrictions on the U.S. and Russian arsenals, which could easily lead to a renewed arms race, and even if that didn’t happen right away the collapse of the treaty would further poison relations with Russia. Arms control has been one of the few issues on which the U.S. and Russia have consistently been able to cooperate since the end of the Cold War, and Bolton wants to see an end to that, too.

Bolton is against the treaty because it constrains and reduces the U.S. arsenal. He is against arms control as such. He talks about more ambitious, comprehensive agreements as a way to cover up the fact that he doesn’t want arms control treaties to exist. This is not a case of making the perfect the enemy of the good. It is feigning interest in “something” better to conceal a desire for destruction.

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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