Bret Stephens has written a risible and ignorant attack on arms control:
The standard answer is more arms control. Some have argued that the U.S. should continue to honor the I.N.F. treaty irrespective of Russian violations. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, former Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia and former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, both Democrats, warn of the “toxic mix of decaying arms control and new advanced weaponry,” and argue against the forward deployment of nuclear weapons. The liberal answer to the Iran crisis is to return to Barack Obama’s nuclear deal.
But the problem with all arms-control treaties isn’t that they lack for good intentions. It’s that the bad guys cheat, the good guys don’t, and the world often finds out too late.
Stephens dismisses arms control and nonproliferation agreements, but the most likely alternative to these is the unrestricted development of the weapons that these agreements are meant to limit or prevent. His column is bluntly titled “The U.S. Needs More Nukes,” which is as wrong as can be. The U.S. already has more nuclear weapons than it possibly needs for our security and the security of our allies. Continuing to adhere to the INF Treaty and using it to pressure Russia over its violations clearly make more sense than killing the treaty and allowing them to develop new missiles without any restrictions. Nicholas Miller comments on the absurdity of Stephens’ column:
My favorite part of this masterpiece is Stephens implying the US needs more nuclear weapons to deal with China (US has 20x more nukes), North Korea (US has 100x more nukes) Iran (who has 0 nukes), and Pakistan (a quasi-ally). https://t.co/bonWteh7k9
— Nicholas Miller (@Nick_L_Miller) August 10, 2019
Ankit Panda notes that there are several basic errors of fact in the column as well:
— Ankit Panda (@nktpnd) August 10, 2019
The danger in the coming years and decades is not that the U.S. arsenal will be too small or too old, but that the limits put in place by the arms control treaties negotiated during and after the Cold War will completely disappear. He never so much as mentions New START. That is the last surviving arms control treaty, and it is in danger of expiring without having anything to take its place. The treaty has worked exactly as intended, and both the U.S. and Russia have honored their commitments under the treaty. The history of START and New START refutes everything Stephens says about arms control, and that is probably why he has omitted it. When New START dies in a little less than two years, there will effectively be no more arms control, and the U.S. and the entire world will be worse off and less secure because of it. That is the future that Stephens wants. The fact that the column was published on the anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki makes it even more awful:
Not only is this piece littered with bad analogies and flawed assumptions, but publishing a piece called “The US Needs More Nukes” on the 74th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing is damn near sociopathic. https://t.co/eQPLvhn6ax
— Matt Korda (@mattkorda) August 10, 2019
Quitting the INF Treaty was an extremely foolish response to Russian violation of the treaty, but even in the case of Russia’s violation of this treaty we can see the value in having treaties like this one. Had there been no INF Treaty, Russia could and would have been developing these weapons for the last thirty years and would have far more of them now, and the U.S. in turn would have built many more. Instead of having a Europe bristling with these missiles, the INF Treaty eliminated them for an entire generation. Throwing that accomplishment away because Russia violated it once is the very definition of short-sightedness. Europe was much safer because of this treaty, which also happened to be one of the most lopsided treaties in favor of the U.S. ever negotiated.
Like other opponents of the JCPOA, Stephens falsely claims that Iran violated the agreement, but his new source for this is an unreliable ideologue. The original citation was a link to an article that didn’t support Stephens’ false claim:
Well, this was funny. Amid the errors and exaggerations in @BretStephensNYT’s piece is the claim that Iran repeatedly violated the JCPOA. Checking the link to see what his evidence was, I see it’s my own work, which didn’t say that. https://t.co/jFbuuLYYAS
— Mark Fitzpatrick (@MarkTFitz) August 10, 2019
Stephens’ claim that Iran violated the deal also contradicts fifteen reports from the IAEA. In this case, Iran didn’t cheat, it would have been immediately discovered if it did, and the U.S. still broke its word and violated the agreement. In other words, the “bad guys” didn’t cheat, we didn’t find out “too late,” and the “good guys” were the ones to violate the deal. The JCPOA is a perfect example of why Stephens is wrong about arms control and nonproliferation, and this column is just the latest example of how he has shown off his ignorance for all to see.