By Rick Wayman
There is no shortage of critics who have pointed out President Donald Trump’s monumental strategic mistake in unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It is indeed a blunder of the highest degree that not only makes the Trump administration look incompetent and foolish, but also puts the United States’ European allies and all of us at greater risk of nuclear catastrophe.
There are some dangerous individuals feeding President Trump terrible advice on nuclear arms treaties. John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Adviser, is a well-known foe of international treaties and agreements. His signature is all over the INF Treaty withdrawal, just as it was with Trump’s willful violation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the “Iran Deal”) in 2018.
Less well known, but equally dangerous, is Tim Morrison, who works to promote nuclear weapons as a staff member of the National Security Council. Morrison worked for Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona back in 2010 when Kyl led the opposition to the New START Treaty that President Barack Obama negotiated with Russia. Kyl, with Morrison’s behind-the-scenes assistance, successfully extracted a ransom of nearly $100 billion from Obama in the form of promises for nuclear weapons “modernization” in exchange for a sufficient number of Senate Republicans’ advice and consent in favor of New START.
It is clear that Bolton, Morrison, and those like them in the current administration are gunning for New START to be the next treaty to meet the chopping block. New START is the last remaining arms control treaty between the United States and Russia. It limits each side to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. By choosing not to prepare now for the treaty’s extension when it expires in 2021, Trump is planting the seeds for an unconstrained surge in the nuclear arms race.
This disintegration of the arms control regime is a dangerous pattern that started with President George W. Bush’s 2002 abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The INF Treaty, negotiated in 1987 by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, was the first nuclear arms treaty to eliminate an entire class of weapons. Now, nothing prevents Russia or the United States from deploying this destabilizing class of intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles. Today, the “modernization” that President Obama promised in exchange for New START has swelled to $1.7 trillion over 30 years, but the treaty itself hangs in the balance.
This is not the direction the world should be heading in 2019, and indeed it is not the direction that the majority of the world is going. The momentum behind the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) shows that nuclear weapons are unacceptable under all circumstances, and that the countries that insist on maintaining them are rogue actors.
While responsible nations around the world are signing and ratifying the TPNW, nearly every nation – nuclear-armed or not – is looking on in disbelief as Donald Trump shreds treaties and agreements. Not everyone in the U.S. is on board with this, though.
The Back from the Brink campaign lays out five straightforward policy proposals to prevent nuclear war. Los Angeles, Baltimore, and the state of California are among the city and state governments that have strongly supported this language. The NuclearBan.US efforts to get institutions and municipalities to be in compliance with the TPNW is picking up momentum.
In Congress, Democratic members of the House and Senate have introduced legislation to prevent the first use of nuclear weapons, prohibit the U.S. President from having sole authority to launch nuclear weapons first, to prevent deployment of Trump’s new “low-yield” submarine-launched nuclear warhead, and refuse funding for development of intermediate-range missiles that were prohibited under the INF Treaty. All of these efforts are worthwhile, but unfortunately they so far only have the support of some Democrats and very few, if any, Republicans.
Ending the nuclear arms race with Russia and – ultimately – putting an end to the nuclear age need not be a partisan issue. After all, the freshly-discarded INF Treaty was negotiated by President Reagan, who famously said, “Why wait until the end of the (20th) century for a world free of nuclear weapons?”
President Trump has chosen to surround himself with dangerous advisors who, in defiance of President Reagan’s vision, choose to put all humanity at risk by pursuing a perpetual nuclear arms race. It’s not too late to reverse this trend, but the clock is ticking.