US President Donald Trump’s proposed new multilateral nuclear arms control pact is nothing but a “pipe dream — or a smoke screen for scuttling the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), independent defence expert Jon Wolfsthal pointed out in a think piece published by the website Defence One.
Late last month, Trump indicated his intention to negotiate a major nuclear arms control deal with Russia and China, saying such a treaty should include “all the weapons, all the warheads, all the missiles” in the countries’ respective arsenals.
Wolfsthal writes in this vein that “any new effort” to constrain the nuclear activities of Russia and China “should not stand in the way of doing the easy and obvious thing […]: extending the 2010 New START Treaty between Russia and the United States”.
The author believes Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton, who is an avid opponent of arms control, wants to take advantage of the prospect of new negotiations with China and Russia to prevent the extension of the New START Treaty, which expires in 2021.
“And forgive me for doubting, but it is unlikely that the short-handed Trump administration has the personnel and skills required to negotiate a complex, multilateral arms control agreement within the next 18 months. We don’t need a nuclear version of repeal-and-replace”, Wolfsthal notes.
The expert adds that as far as Bolton is concerned, “there is a long line of dead treaties in the national security adviser’s wake, and he apparently wants to add New START to the list”.
Trump, in turn, perceives the treaty as another legacy of his predecessor Barack Obama, who has been repeatedly slammed by the US President for having "some kind of ego-driven vendetta”, according to Wolfsthal.
He also points out that with more than two years in office, the Trump administration “has yet to determine whether it is interested in extending the New START Treaty”.
“As I see it, it is clear for the reasons stated above that President Trump and Ambassador Bolton would be more than happy to get rid of the New START Treaty, one way or another”, Wolfsthal claims.
In conclusion, Wolfsthal underscores that Trump's zeal for new nuclear arms control agreements deserves attention, but that “under no circumstances should we be tricked into thinking that these efforts should come before extending an existing agreement that is at risk and that very much serves American national security interests”.
The author warns that killing New START may result a full-blown arms race that “neither the United States or Russia need and from which neither would benefit”.
On Saturday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that the extension of the New START Treaty was specifically discussed during the 3 May telephone conversation between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump, in turn, touted the conversation as a “very productive talk”.
Late last month, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said that Moscow is ready to extend New START but that the future of the agreement remains in doubt after the US quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
“The extension of the New START is not a simple technicality that could be resolved in a couple of weeks. Serious issues must first be settled”, the envoy stressed.
The New START agreement went into force in 2011 and covers a 10-year period with the possibility of a five-year extension. The document is based on several previous joint non-proliferation arrangements, limiting the number of deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, nuclear armed bombers, and nuclear warheads.