Foreign Policy

Trump makes nuclear mistake on arms control treaty with Russia


Since the end of the Cold War, verifiable nuclear arms reductions have been a bipartisan priority. Both Democratic and Republican administrations worked to reduce the number of Russian nuclear weapons that could be pointed at the United States and vice versa.

Unfortunately, this bipartisan consensus has been dangerously unsettled during a phone call between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin.

{mosads}According to media reports, President Donald Trump denounced the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in his first formal conversation with the Russian president late last month, reportedly calling the arms control agreement a bad deal for the United States.


It’s not a bad deal. In fact, New START was ratified by the United States Senate with bipartisan support — and endorsements from senior military officials — precisely because it benefits U.S. national security.

Here are the facts: By 2018, New START will limit both Russia and the United States to approximately 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and no more than 700 deployed delivery systems for these warheads.

Though Russia currently deploys more than 1,550 warheads (a common critique of New START), all evidence suggests they will verifiably meet their obligations under the treaty by the 2018 deadline.

Critically, New START also includes extensive verification measures that allows the United States to conduct 18 on-site inspections each year. This forces Moscow to be transparent about its nuclear arsenal, providing the U.S. intelligence and defense communities with extensive information about Russian nuclear forces.

Without the agreement, U.S. national security would be at risk. Russia would have no limitations preventing a nuclear build-up. Moscow’s transparency would immediately turn to opacity. None of this would be in the interest of the United States. If anything, ending New START would only benefit the Kremlin.

Don’t just take our word for it. Numerous national security officials and senior military brass staunchly approve of New START.

After the treaty was signed, seven former commanders of the U.S. nuclear arsenal signed a joint letter supporting it, noting that New START “will enhance American national security in several important ways,” including restrictions on the number of deployed Russian nuclear weapons and tough verification processes — all while preserving a robust U.S. nuclear deterrent to prevent an attack against the United States and its allies.

Various members of President Trump’s political party also support New START.

Former Republican Secretaries of State George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger and Colin Powell endorsed the agreement in 2010, writing, “Whenever New START is brought up for debate, we encourage all senators to focus on national security,” adding that it is “in the national interest to ratify New START.”

Senator Bob Corker, the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has also backed New START.

“My only concern in consideration of this treaty has been the safety and security of the American people,” he said in 2010. “In the final analysis, I am pleased to support a treaty that continues the legacy of President Reagan who signed the first nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia in 1987.”

From the annexation of Crimea to the abhorrent situation in Syria, Washington has found itself in contention with Moscow. But preserving a pivotal nuclear arms control agreement is in the clear interest of the United States, and beneficial to global security.

During President Trump’s next conversation with Putin, he would be prudent to discuss possibilities of extending New START, not threatening a treaty that retains wide support and improves the safety and security of the United States.

Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr. served as a senior U.S. diplomat involved in various international arms control agreements over a three-decade career. He is a member of the National Advisory Board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Byron Dorgan represented North Dakota in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, where he served as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which initiates funding for U.S. nuclear warheads. He serves on the National Advisory Board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Arms Purchase Sale Bob Corker Donald Trump foreign relations International relations Law New START Nuclear proliferation Nuclear weapons Nuclear weapons and the United States Russia–United States relations Soviet Union–United States relations START I Strategic Arms Limitation Talks
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