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How To Head Off the Next Nuclear Arms Race

How To Head Off the Next Nuclear Arms Race

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Donald Trump is no fan of international agreements, to put it mildly. Among many other examples, he has renounced the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accord, and the treaty to limit medium-range nuclear-armed missiles in Europe. Now his administration seems poised to abandon the last vestige of U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control, the New START treaty. A new report by Women’s Action for New Directions underlines exactly what a terrible idea that would be.

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Rather than trashing the treaty, the Trump administration should take the simple step of renewing New START for five years beyond its current expiration date in 2021. New START still leaves each side with 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads, far more than would be needed to end life as we know it. But the treaty is a building block for further reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals and an insurance policy against a new, Cold War-style nuclear arms race.

As the WAND report notes, a particularly important aspect of the treaty is its elaborate set of verification procedures, including on-site inspections. These processes ensure that each side has a window into the other side’s nuclear forces and intentions, an important guard against the outbreak of a new, exorbitantly expensive, and extremely dangerous competition to build more – and more devastating – nuclear weapons. The report quotes French President Emmanuel Macron, who notes that the failure to extend New START could create “the possibility of a pure and unrestrained military and nuclear competition, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the end of the 1960s.”

The ultimate protection against a nuclear war is to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. But in the meantime, we should not disregard the achievements of six decades of nuclear arms control. In the mid-1980s, the active nuclear stockpiles of the United States and the Soviet Union combined totaled over 60,000, over eight times the current level of 7,110 active warheads in the U.S. and Russian arsenals. The current number is still far too many, but the curve has been moving in the right direction, and without New START as a foundation it will be extremely difficult to achieve further reductions.

Despite Russia’s declared willingness to extend the treaty now, the Trump administration has delayed doing so on the theory that China should be included in a new version of New START. But as the WAND report notes, this maneuver means “delaying and endangering the extension of New START,” giving negotiators “an improbable mission on an impossible timeline.” If serious nuclear arms negotiations with China are to proceed at some point, they should do so after New START has been extended.

The United States and Russia are already engaged in a qualitative arms race. On the U.S. side that involves the Pentagon’s plan to spend an astonishing $1.7 trillion or more over the next three decades to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, missiles, and submarines, with new warheads to go with them. In theory, all of this would happen within the limits on deployed warheads set out in the New START Treaty. Without the treaty, all bets are off, and increases in the numbers of deployed warheads beyond New START levels could add hundreds of billions more to an already outrageous and unacceptable price tag.

The WAND report sums up the value of extending New START as follows:

‘The Trump administration could grasp the easy foreign policy win already within its reach by negotiating with the Russians to outright extend New START for the next five years. This option would preserve global stockpile numbers, mitigate any risk of an all-out nuclear arms race in the short-term, and buy more time to create a diplomatic solution that would meaningfully restrict the Russian exotic systems on the horizon and possibly approach China about joining a new, formal arms control agreement.”

Meanwhile, popular pressure is urgently needed at the global level to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether, as called for by the Nobel-prize winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and enshrined in the U.N. Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was endorsed by the vast majority of the world’s nations in July of 2017. It is a difficult but necessary goal and will be all the harder to achieve if the last U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement is allowed to lapse.

 

This article was written by William Hartung from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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