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Trump’s Arms Control Charade

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

The Trump administration has proven once again that it doesn’t take arms control seriously:

The Trump administration has chosen a special envoy for nuclear talks, with the principal task of negotiating a new arms control agreement with Russia and China, according to congressional sources and former officials.

The proposed special negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, is currently the under-secretary for terrorist financing at the US Treasury. His nomination last year for a top human rights job at the state department was stalled by controversy over the extent of his involvement in the torture programme established by the George W Bush administration, in which he oversaw the conditions of detainees in Guantánamo Bay.

Billingslea’s name was being floated last month for this position, and how he has it. The article describes him as having “a long record as a hawk on nuclear weapons issues” and reminds us that he was once an aide to Jesse Helms. Billingslea’s appointment is a clear signal that the administration doesn’t really want new arms control agreements.

Meanwhile, the time to extend New START grows shorter. New START expires in eleven months, and this appointment proves that there is no real interest in the administration in extending the treaty. No one who wants to keep New START alive would risk its collapse by tying it to the outcome of a new set of arms control talks, so it is hard not to conclude that advocates for these new “talks” want New START to die. Unless the administration hopes to destroy arms control between the U.S. and Russia, New START extension ought to be the first priority. David Axe explained this last week:

If New START expires, there’s virtually no second chance to restore its limits on the world’s major nuclear arsenals. “If New START expires next year, arms control between Russia and the United States as we know it is effectively over,” Korda and Kristensen explained.

“Given the underlying East-West tensions and upcoming dramatic governance shifts in both the United States and Russia, there appears to be little interest or bandwidth available on either side in negotiating a new and improved treaty.”

“At risk of stating the obvious, negotiating a new treaty is exponentially more difficult than extending an existing one.”

The initial response to the appointment from some arms control experts has been quite negative:

The administration has feigned interest in a “bigger” treaty that includes both Russia and China in order to have an excuse for letting New START lapse. Naming an envoy for talks that are going nowhere is just one more part of this charade. There will be no meaningful negotiations for a new treaty, so Billingslea won’t have much to do.

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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