Daniel Larison

New START Is Running Out of Time

Caroline Dorminey and Sumaya Malas do an excellent job of making the case for extending New START:

One of the most critical arms control agreements, the New Strategic Reduction Arms Treaty (New START), will disappear soon if leaders do not step up to save it. New START imposes limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals, Russia and the United States, and remains one of the last arms control agreements still in effect. Those limits expire in exactly one year from Wednesday, and without it, both stockpiles will be unconstrained for the first time in decades.

Democrats in Congress already express consistent support for the extension of New START, turning the issue into a Democratic Party agenda item. But today’s hyper-partisan landscape need not dictate that arms control must become solely a Democratic priority. Especially when the treaty in question still works, provides an important limit on Russian nuclear weapons, and ultimately increases our national security.

Dorminey and Malas are right that there should be broad support for extending the treaty. The treaty’s ratification was frequently described as a “no-brainer” win for U.S. national security when it was being debated ten years ago, and the treaty’s extension is likewise obviously desirable for both countries. The trouble is that the Trump administration doesn’t judge this treaty or any other international agreement on the merits, and only a few of the Republicans that voted to ratify the treaty are still in office. Trump and his advisers have been following the lead of anti-arms control ideologues for years. That is why the president seized on violations of the INF Treaty as an excuse to get rid of that treaty instead of working to resolve the dispute with Russia, and that is why he expressed his willingness to pull out of the Open Skies Treaty. Trump has encountered no resistance from the GOP as he goes on a treaty-killing spree, because by and large the modern Republican Party couldn’t care less about arms control.

Like these hard-liners, Trump doesn’t think there is such a thing as a “win-win” agreement with another government, and for that he reason he won’t support any treaty that imposes the same restrictions on both parties. We can see that the administration isn’t serious about extending the treaty when we look at the far-fetched demands they insist on adding to the existing treaty. These additional demands are meant to serve as a smokescreen so that the administration can let the treaty die, and the administration is just stalling for time until the expiration occurs. The Russian government has said many times that it is ready and willing to accept an extension of the treaty without any conditions, and the U.S. response has been to let them eat static.

It would be ideal if Trump suddenly changed his position on all this and just extended the treaty, but all signs point in the opposite direction. What we need to start thinking about is what the next administration is going to have to do to rebuild the arms control architecture that this administration has demolished. There will be almost no time for the next president to extend the treaty next year, so it needs to be a top priority. If New START lapses, the U.S. and Russia would have to negotiate a new treaty to replace it, and in the current political climate the odds that the Senate would ratify an arms control treaty (or any treaty) are not good. It would be much easier and wiser to keep the current treaty alive, but we need to start preparing for the consequences of Trump’s unwillingness to do that.

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