President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the new START treaty in Helsinki, Finland on July 16, 2018. Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
The last agreement to limit the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia is still several months away.
In December 2019, a group of secret American and Russian elites gathered at a large table.
The 147th meeting of the Dartmouth Conference, held every two years, is a gathering of citizens from the two countries to improve the connection between Washington and Washington. The weather outside is cold, like the Dayton winter in Ohio The same, but the mood inside is the same cold. A meeting was held in Moscow. Since 1960, former ambassadors and military generals, journalists, business leaders and other experts have gathered to discuss the core challenges of the delicate relationship between the two countries.
In recent years, from election interference to the Ukrainian war. But now, the dangerous prospect worries them most, just like the group’s supporters and quiet supporters, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev decades ago: nuclear disaster.
The procedure usually starts with a lengthy summary of the relationship, safety, medical, social, political, and religious issues for discussion. This time, the summary is short.
"We went directly to the nuclear issue," a meeting member spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the incident. The member added: “Some people think that we are in serious danger because this is the end of arms control as we know it.”
“That was dramatic and shocking,” the member added.
At that time, the United States and Russia had just concluded the last major arms control agreement between them, one year away: the new armament reduction treaty, short for "Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty." The agreement limits the size of the two countries’ nuclear arsenals, which together account for 93% of all nuclear warheads on the planet. The deal will expire on February 5, 2021, and people sitting at the table fear it will perish.
This unease inspired the four co-chairs of the organization to do something that the Dartmouth Conference has not done in the 60 years since its establishment: a statement.
"In view of our deep concern for the safety of people in all countries, for the first time in our history we have made this public appeal to our government due to the urgency of the situation," they wrote, calling
Today, about half a year before the new START ceased, members of the group continued to emphasize the consequences. The retired US Army Brigadier General said: "We are at a decisive moment." General Peter Zwack, who attended the December meeting. "The entire arms control system of the past 50 years is about to pass."
This week, seventy-five years ago, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, releasing weapons of mass destruction to the world. Since then, the United States and Russia, the two largest nuclear powers in the world, have engaged in decades of arduous diplomacy, which has saved the two countries from releasing such destructive forces to each other. But now, the United States and Russia have only a few months left.
The new START may soon join other defunct arms control agreements, including a ban on ground-based medium-range missiles that will be scrapped in 2019 and another plan that may allow nuclear facilities to fly over.
One reason for all this: President Donald Trump wants to leave his mark on the history of arms control in one way or another.
"They want to do something, so I will do it, Trump told Axios about his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July. "If we can What to do with Russia in terms of nuclear proliferation, this is a big problem-a bigger problem than global warming, a bigger problem than global warming in the real world-that would be a good thing.  But the Trump administration admits that its views on the nuclear issue are far less than the weapons owned by the United States and Russia: it also involves China’s arsenals.
"The President instructed us to be more advanced than the current arms control concept. Think broadly and seek an agreement that reflects current geopolitical dynamics, including Russia and China. "A senior government official who asked not to be named told me. "We are continuing to evaluate whether we can use the new START to achieve this goal.
The assessment with Russia has become a delicate process. High-level and working-level meetings were held in Vienna to see if START can be saved. Officials from the two countries met again in the Austrian capital at the end of July, and the United States (although The United States is not a signatory to the new START, but the United States hopes to participate in negotiations to limit its nuclear and missile capabilities) did not show up.
This may explain why Trump insisted on allowing China to intervene. When asked about the need for China and Russia During the negotiations, he said outside the White House: "We will work first, and we will wait and see. "Now, China is a much less nuclear power plant than Russia. What you know is… we finally hope to have a dialogue with China.
Some people say that Trump has good reasons to reconsider things. The Russians cheated on previous transactions. Washington can use Moscow’s clear desire to extend the new starting point to its advantages, such as getting them to promise not to interfere in 2020. General election. Some people believe that even if it is not now, China should be included in a set of modern agreements as soon as possible.
But even former Trump officials said that these reasons do not mean the end of a new starting point. From April 2018 As of October 2019, Andrea Thompson, a senior arms control officer at the State Department, said to me: "The new START is working. "Former Vice President Joe Biden (Joe Biden) agreed with this and has vowed to seek an extension in the weeks between his inauguration as president and the conclusion of the deal.
However, Trump still has a chance not to continue. If an agreement is reached, Biden will not move forward. If the new START ends, then the general hostility between the United States and Russia may lead to a nuclear arms race and prompt China to continue to increase its troops. This situation is different from ours since the Cold War. Any situation.
"Leon Panetta, our former director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense, said to me: "A greater threat of conflict is being created, and it may even completely destroy every country and even our planet.
The following reports on the imminent deaths of the United States and Russia are based on a dialogue with more than 20 current and former US officials, congressmen, and experts on three continents. It traces the story of arms control, from its origin to its possible end in the next few years, and what this might mean for all of us.
The long and dangerous road to arms control
Washington and Moscow did not sit down for a day, and then decided: "Hey, we should really ease the tension and impose restrictions on our nuclear arsenal." Basically , They must feel scared and stressed about this.
The two sides decided that it was time for decades of demonstrations, horrible closed-door calls and nuclear accidents.
1) The rise of the anti-nuclear movement: After the US military dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, it vividly demonstrated five important moments of arms control. The terrorist power of these weapons has caused many Americans and people around the world to rally against them. The movement has gradually faded, but the overall result has been continued pressure to limit American policymakers, Christopher Miller, an expert on US-Russian nuclear history at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, told me.
2) The U.S.-Soviet stalemate over Berlin: In 1958, Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev wanted American troops, French and British to leave West Berlin so that the city could be The East German authorities controlled by the Soviets ruled. President Dwight Eisenhower did not resolve the deadlock. In his 1961 speech, President John F. Kennedy said: "If the conversation helps, we are sometimes ready to talk. But if force is used against us, we must also be prepared to resist it. Any one will Failed.
In the end, Kennedy Khrushchev’s reverse channel escalated the situation, but the Berlin crisis showed that any major differences between the two powers could eventually intensify, and nuclear is conceivable.
3 ) Cuban Missile Crisis: . On October 14, 1962, the United States discovered that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba, only 90 miles from the southern tip of Florida. A 13-day crisis followed, which brought the United States on the verge of The Soviet war. Eventually ended in a deal. Every superpower withdrew its missiles from a region: the Soviets from Cuba and the Americans from Turkey.
"I was introduced to the nuclear equation and the dangers very early. ," said Sam Nunn. From 1972 to 1996, he served as the U.S. Senator from Georgia and became a major figure in U.S. nuclear policy. "This is a very close call. "
4) China’s nuclear test: China tested its first nuclear device on October 16, 1964, becoming the fifth nuclear country (except the United States and the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France) At this point, it also possesses nuclear weapons.) Experts say that China has used the technology provided to the Soviet Union by the Soviet Union a few years ago, which surprised the Americans to a large extent.
Experts believe that both countries are Takes great responsibility for taking the nuclear spirit out of the bottle. The technology necessary to make bombs. Therefore, the United States and the Soviet Union worked hard to achieve arms control.
5) Soviet-Chinese relations broke down: Decline Although Moscow was reluctant, the relationship between Moscow and Beijing forced the Soviets to establish trust in the United States. After the alliance was formed in the 1950s, ideology The disagreement (that is, the centrality of communism in domestic and foreign policy) caused the two capitals to separate from each other. In 1969, the two sides jointly declared that they had uninhabited islands and the disagreement broke out, which confirmed this split. ] But the split caused the Soviet Union to be a little distressed because the leaders did not want to develop relations with the powers of the East and West at the same time. Moscow believed that it could improve its relations with the United States by containing its nuclear arsenal.
In other words, after more and more In the more dangerous period, the United States and the Soviet Union finally realized that they must build trust to avoid disaster. The Pentagon and CIA Director Panetta told me: "There is indeed a strong feeling that this is an opportunity to try to contain what may happen.
This feeling turned into action, and produced the first major arms control agreements
"This is a turning point in world history."
The first time between the United States and the Soviets, the most The hopeful arms control negotiations began in November 1969. After two years of negotiations, the two countries signed a landmark nuclear weapons treaty in Moscow.
The agreement included two agreements. The first was the 1972 "Countermeasures". The Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), which restricts each country to two anti-missile systems: one for the national capital and the other for the protection of intercontinental ballistic missile fields.
This is very important. The development of these systems The goal is to shoot down upcoming nuclear missiles: For example, if the Soviet Union fires ballistic missiles to the United States, the United States can launch its own missiles to destroy the Soviet Union. Both countries consider spreading these defensive measures throughout their territories to protect major cities, military locations, and critical infrastructure Key locations such as facilities.
However, since there are only two locations, the United States and the Soviet Union basically agreed to make most of their respective countries vulnerable to attack. If the United States launches missiles in most of the Soviet Union, it will almost certainly reach the target. But any retaliatory action by Moscow may also achieve its goal in the United States. Therefore, keeping both sides relatively weak is to prompt the two countries to think twice before launching any missiles, perhaps to persuade them to stop developing more offensive capabilities.
The United States The Senate approved the agreement, which came into effect in August. Two months later.
The other part of the agreement, the "Interim Agreement", deals with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles ( SLBM) troops set a ceiling. The United States can only have 1,054 ICBM silos and 656 SLBM launch tubes at most. The Soviet Union cannot have more than 1,607 ICBM silos and 740 SLBM launch tubes.
These two agreements ( Collectively called "Strategic Arms Restriction Negotiations" or SALT) ushered in the era of arms control between the two major nuclear weapons.
This is a pivotal moment in history: after decades of dangerous close appeals and nuclear accumulation, the world The two most powerful nations retreated from the periphery and screamed their problems. The deal was not perfect anyway, but it showed a signal of hope that they might not blow up each other, or the whole world. They did not fight to destroy themselves, but deliberately reduced power for their own national interests and the common good of the world.
"This is a very important agreement," President Richard Nixon made in May 1972 The dinner said. The signing ceremony, "However, this is again just an indication of what may happen in the future when we work for world peace.
Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin agreed: the agreement "will be a major achievement in the containment of the arms race in history." "This is a major victory for the Soviet people and the American people."
Or, as a Soviet reporter who reported the incident said: "This is a turning point in world history."
Arms control gained momentum… The two countries are ready to continue their efforts to limit the strength and size of their arsenals. Sarah Bidgood, a Russian nuclear program expert at the Middlebury School of International Studies in Monterey, told me: "The Americans and the Soviets realized that if arms control were taken seriously, their stature would improve. "If they play a leading role on this issue, they will look better in the eyes of the international community."
This momentum was promoted in several major events.
In 1974, India detonated its first nuclear bomb. The technology it used was acquired from American companies under the policies of the Eisenhower era, called "Atoms for Peace".
"This visionary plan is based on bargaining between the United States and developing countries. The United States provides research reactors, fuel, and scientific training for developing countries that need civilian nuclear programs," Arms Control and Nuclear Policy Expert Aria Ariana Rowberry wrote in 2013. "In exchange, the recipient country pledged to use only technology and education.
The goal of the program is to promote peaceful nuclear energy and scientific knowledge. But its lasting legacy is that it stimulated the global spread of nuclear weapons. In fact, this policy helped establish The nuclear programs of Iran, Israel, and Pakistan ultimately contributed to more nuclear proliferation, not less.
" [I] There are reasons to question whether the "peace atom" accelerates by helping certain countries Proliferation Stanford University nuclear expert Leonard Weiss (Leonard Weiss) wrote in 2003: "The arsenal of the United States is much more advanced than before. The jury has been discussing this issue for some time, the answer Yes."  Although both the United States and the Soviet Union played a role in promoting this process, the global proliferation of this most deadly weapon in human history ultimately caused Washington and Moscow to be deeply concerned.
The increase in U.S. anti-nuclear protests also increased the push for further arms control. This gave them greater motivation to stop nuclear proliferation. The main manifestation of this movement was in 1982. On June 12, 1 million people gathered in Manhattan to protest against nuclear weapons. The New York Times wrote the next day: “Participating groups ranged from radicals seeking the immediate and unilateral disarmament of the United States to moderates demanding the resumption of negotiations on arms reductions.”
Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow Rita Scott King spoke to the group at the rally. She said: “The number of people here is so large that it must be communicated to the White House and Capitol Hill.”
This movement inspired similar movements in Europe in the 1980s when the Reagan administration wanted to install short- and medium-range missiles on the continent. To deter the Soviet Union. The main concern is that Moscow may consider these actions to be provocative, so much so that they will attack these positions and launch World War III.
The protest was so successful that Ulrich Kuhn, an arms control expert at the University of Hamburg, told me that in Germany, for example, they contributed to the resignation of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt .
During this turbulent period, the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union met to reach an increasing number of agreements, or at least on the basis of previous agreements. Not all attempts have been successful, but the two countries will eventually sign more agreements in the next four decades, including updates to SALT (SALT II signed in 1979) and the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
These agreements played a key role in easing tensions between the two countries and containing the risk of nuclear escalation. However, those tensions will increase again.
…and arms control is faltering.
President Reagan worried that the Americans and the Soviets would beat each other's forge. Reliance on "mutual assurance of destruction"-this is the idea that no country will use nuclear weapons to attack each other, because retaliation will escalate to the annihilation of the two countries-is foolish to him. In fact, he called this concept a "suicide treaty."
What is his solution to this problem? "Star Wars." No, not a movie, but a missile defense system that includes a laser equipped with a space nuclear warhead.
"If free men can live safely, and their safety does not depend on the United States taking immediate retaliatory action to deter Soviet threats, what should we do? Attack so that we can reach ourselves or ours by strategic ballistic missiles Before the allies intercepted and destroyed them?" Reagan said in a national speech in March 1983.
But the government realized that establishing such a system would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. After all, the whole point of the treaty is to ensure that each country can successfully attack each other with a large number of nuclear missiles, thereby preventing any party from launching a strike.
If the United States can now successfully use space lasers for interception
The "Star Wars" program, officially known as the "Strategic Defense Program" (SDI), was eventually cancelled, partly because of the "ABM Treaty." However, careful consideration of the plan shows that the United States’ commitment to arms control is not so firm.
The real breakthrough in the era of cooperation began in the early 2000s.
It took several months to become President George W. Bush told the Washington crowd that he would reduce the US nuclear arsenal to "the lowest possible number in line with our national security." But after the 9/11 attacks, Bush and his national security team concluded that the world has changed dramatically. The old way of thinking about national security needs to be updated, including arms control.
The Bush administration believed that the arms control arrangement with the Soviet Union was not only out of date (after all, until now, the Soviet Union even no longer exists)
Bush's team cited two main reasons. First, the United States needs all available tools to combat terrorist organizations that try to harm the United States. If terrorists possess nuclear weapons, it does not want to be restricted. Second, there are growing concerns about Iran and North Korea improving their missile programs. Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser at the time, believed that if those countries were to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles on the mainland, the United States’ Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty would be unable to respond.
As a result, Bush withdrew the US "ABM Treaty", saying that its restrictions were inappropriate. American power. The President said in December 2001: "The defense of the American people is the highest priority of our commander-in-chief, and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defenses."
Seen as the dawn of a more confrontational America. Kuhn, an arms control expert at the University of Hamburg, said: "Russia believes that the United States is now fully enacting its own international rules." This understanding only deepens when the United States pushes NATO to expand to include members that are getting closer and closer to the Russian border.
However, the Bush administration did sign the "Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty" (SORT, also known as the "Moscow Treaty"," because it was signed in May 2002. It promised that the United States and Russia will keep their strategic nuclear forces deployed at Between 1,700 and 2,200 nuclear warheads for a period of 10 years, with unanimous approval the following year.
The Bush administration decided to reach an agreement, some experts said, because it is basically free. The agreement is almost impossible to verify, so if needed However, the United States can still maintain flexibility, and at the same time Washington’s relations with Moscow have improved.
President Barack Obama hopes to go further in the direction of arms control. He became president in 2009. During his first visit to Europe, he delivered a speech in Prague, vowing to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the United States, and announced his intention to sign a new arms control agreement with Russia.
This was used as a way to gain support from the Senate in order to reach a conclusion with Russia The Republican agreement, Obama launched a multi-billion-dollar nuclear modernization program, and triggered criticism from arms controlists.
But this strategy worked for a long time: Obama matched his vision.
But this strategy worked: In 2010, he announced the "New START", which he called "the most comprehensive arms control agreement in the past two decades." The White House explained at the time that this was created by Obama and the Russian President. The agreement signed by Mitri Medvedev in April this year "reduces the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the United States and Russia by approximately one third."
"It greatly reduced missiles and launchers. It built a powerful and An effective verification system. The White House statement continues.
This agreement came into effect on February 5, 2011, and it maintains the flexibility we need to protect and enhance national security and ensure our firm commitment to the security of our allies. "And replaced SORT. According to the terms of the treaty, the United States and Russia must reach the limits imposed on their arsenal by February 5, 2018.
But then they were elected as new presidents in 2016.
Special Trump took control of the country and abolished arms control.
Nuclear war is a threat that Donald Trump has often talked about for years, and he sometimes seems to be really worried about it.
"I have been thinking Assessing the issue of war; this is a very important element in my thinking process. This is the ultimate, the ultimate disaster, and the biggest problem in the world. No one pays attention to its essence." Trump accepted "Playboy" in 1990 "Said in an interview.
Trump has said many times that he understands the devastating. His uncle John was a professor at MIT. He is a famous scientific thinker. He has been The power to possess nuclear weapons. Trump said in another Playboy interview at this time in 2004: "He is an outstanding scientist. He will tell me that weapons have become so powerful today that humans are in great trouble.  When Trump took office on January 20, 2017, three major agreements related to arms control came into effect: the "INF Treaty" is a confidence-building measure called "open skies", and the new START, Obama negotiated an agreement several years ago.
However, Trump did not continue his predecessor’s progress in making the world safer from the threat of nuclear war. Instead, he decided to dismantle everything, and
is here Of the three U.S.-Russian agreements, one has disappeared, the other almost disappears, and the last one seems to be disappearing. Some experts say this is not all bad, because Russia does cheat on certain agreements, while the United States does Show that these actions will have consequences.
But most of the experts I talked to worry that Trump is dismantling the means without a new blueprint to make it better, or even rebuild what is already there. "The entire arms control system bears Under tremendous pressure," Ernest Moniz, the former Energy Secretary who now leads the Nuclear Threat Initiative, told me. "It's really creepy. "
Let’s proceed one by one.
"Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty" was created by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 Signed in December 2008. It prohibits Washington and Moscow from deploying ground-launched cruise missiles that can fly between 310 and 3,400 miles.
Both countries signed the agreement to improve relations before the end of the Cold War. However, The two countries can and have since produced cruise missiles that can be launched from the air or sea.
Then there was a problem: Russia violated the agreement. In 2014, the Obama administration accused the Kremlin of direct violation of the agreement test (Russia said that the United States has also deployed a ground missile defense system that can fly within the prohibited range, which violates the agreement. However, the United States denies the deployment of prohibited weapons.)
Therefore, Trump In October 2018, it was announced that the United States would withdraw from the treaty and added that he would give Russia 60 days (until February 2) to comply with the treaty.
This led to months of hasty negotiations between Washington and Moscow to make Russia again complied with the treaty, but neither side succumbed. A military alliance headed by the United States was formed to defeat the threat of the Soviet Union. NATO tried to increase pressure by declaring in December that Russia had violated the terms of the treaty.
In these talks, the Kremlin The palace did not waver. Thompson said: "We will confront them on this issue and they will take responsibility. "Thompson said that the Trump administration leads the INF negotiations. "We know we have nowhere to go."
She said that in the end, she said, "The President decided to withdraw" from the deal. They will not comment on this matter, but we are still working hard. This officially happened in August 2019.
"The Secretary of State is fully responsible for the demise of the treaty," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time. "The United States will not continue to be a party to treaties that Russia deliberately violated."
The wisdom of Trump's choice depends on who you ask. Alexandra Bell of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation said: “There is nothing wrong, Russia caused confusion when it decided to develop, test and deploy” missiles that violated the treaty. However, the Trump administration may be more fortunate" than Obama. "There is no clear plan for the next step.
Jeffrey Edmunds, who served as the director of the Russian National Security Council of the Obama administration, told me that he thought Trump made the right call. He said: "There is nothing that can make the Russians comply again." "In general, in terms of arms control, this poison is very toxic. If you are in favor of arms control, you don't want to insist on invalid arms control agreements because this limits your ability to reach other arms control agreements.
With the abolition of the "INF Treaty", some people think
that most of the experts I talked to said that this will not happen soon in the United States. The United States can now deploy land-based medium-range missiles in Asia (mainly Japan). Mike Green, a Japanese expert at the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said: "In theory, this is an interesting point. However, at this point, Japan's ability to possess US deep strike weapons on US territory is quite good.
However, three American experts who went to Tokyo to meet privately with local officials earlier this year said that this problem often arises. Each time, though, there was this added twist: Japan might consider building and basing ground-based missiles of its own. That's not something Japan is seriously pushing for right now, they noted, but it would fit with the island nation's trend of beefing up its defenses.
At a minimum, those in favor of putting US missiles in Japan say it's worth a shot. "I believe it is realistic, and I am hopeful that we will have an opportunity for basing these weapons in Japan," Rebeccah Heinrichs, a nuclear expert at the Hudson Institute in Washington, told me. "But it's going to take some work."
Originally an idea by Eisenhower and made a reality in 2002, the Open Skies Treaty allows nations to conduct unarmed flights over another country's military installations and other areas of concern. Entering into effect 10 years later, it has since helped the 34 North American and European signatories, including the US and Russia, gain confidence that others weren't developing advanced weapons in secret or planning big attacks.
In other words, the treaty was put into place to prevent arms races — and wars.
In May 2020, Trump decided America would withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, kicking off a six-month clock before the US could officially leave the deal.
"It has become abundantly clear that it is no longer in America's interest to remain a party to the Treaty on Open Skies," Pompeo said in a statement announcing the decision.
"At its core, the Treaty was designed to provide all signatories an increased level of transparency and mutual understanding and cooperation, regardless of their size," he continued. "Russia's implementation and violation of Open Skies, however, has undermined this central confidence-building function of the Treaty — and has, in fact, fueled distrust and thr eats to our national security — making continued US participation untenable."
But that same day, Trump left the door open just a crack to nixing the withdrawal. "There's a very good chance we'll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together," he said outside the White House. "I think what's going to happen is we're going to pull out and they're going to come back and want to make a deal."
Still , the decision to leave was stunning, and arguably dangerous. The treaty allowed both Washington and Moscow to track each other's movements. The imagery they collected was then shared among all the signatories, giving some less technologically advanced nations their only source of overhead intelligence.
That's vitally important for, say, Ukraine, a treaty member that wants to know about Russian military movements on its border.
The worry was if the US left Open Skies, others would too. So far, that's not the case. The Kremlin criticiz ed America's decision but hasn't said if it will stay or leave. NATO allies signaled soon after Trump's announcement that they would remain in Open Skies and other arms control pacts, and the foreign ministries of at least 10 European nations vowed to remain signatories.
That makes sense, since those countries would still benefit from the intelligence collection from overflights, even though they're likely to lose a large number of images after America's departure.
The US, then, has separated itself from multiple allies with the unilateral decision to withdraw from the treaty. But that won't bother the president's supporters who long cited three reasons he needed to take the US out of Open Skies.
First, as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) articulated in 2019, the US could spend its money elsewhere. After all, the US has many spy satellites in space, so the utility of spending money to fly creaking planes for days over Russian and other territory doe sn’t make much sense, the treaty’s critics say.
The president should withdraw from the Open Skies treaty and redeploy the hundreds of millions of dollars the Pentagon wastes on the flights and equipment to increase U.S. combat power. pic.twitter.com/YYewKwessO
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) October 8, 2019
Second, many said Russia was a cheating treaty member.
As Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters in February, the Russians aren’t playing by the rules. “The Russians have been noncompliant in the treaty for years, specifically when it comes to their allowance of overflights and near flights [of] Kaliningrad and Georgia,” he said.
It was a fair point. Russia did restrict US overflights of Kaliningrad — the Russian exclave in Europe’s northeast — to 310 miles in the territory and within a six-mile corridor of its border with Georgian conflict zones Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile, the US rarely, if ever, im peded Russia from at least attempting to see what it wanted to.
“Yes, the Russians are violating that treaty, too, by restricting flights,” Thompson, Trump’s former top arms control diplomat, told me. “The treaty does provide transparency but my sense is it’s largely a symbolic treaty — it helps the alliance — as it provides intelligence for our allies that don’t have the capabilities we do.”
The impediment of flights, though, wasn’t much of a concern for former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. He told Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) in a May 2018 letter that “it is in our Nation’s best interest to remain a party to the Open Skies Treaty” after she complained about Russia’s cheating.
Many experts side with the then-Pentagon chief’s stance. “These issues do not rise to the level of a material breach, nor do they justify withdrawal,” Kingston Reif, an expert at the Arms Control Association, told me in October 2019.
Third, some experts claimed the deal helped Russia much more than it served America.
In 2016, then-Defense Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Vincent Stewart told the House Armed Services Committee he was worried about what Russia could learn due to the treaty.
“The things that you can see, the amount of data you can collect, the things you can do with post-processing, allows Russia, in my opinion, to get incredible foundational intelligence on critical infrastructure, bases, ports, all of our facilities,” he said. “So from my perspective, it gives them a significant advantage.” He later added that he’d “love to deny” Russia overflights.
That’s all fair, especially if Russia was getting better quality information than the US. But advocates of the treaty note that what Moscow learned was outweighed by what the US obtained and shared with its allies in the accord, particularly Ukraine. “The treaty has been of particular value recently in countering Russian disinformation and aggression against Ukraine,” Reif said.
Yet the US dropped Open Skies, just as it soon might with New START.
As a reminder, the New START arms control deal became effective in 2011 during the Obama administration. The treaty’s goal, essentially, is to limit the size of the American and Russian nuclear arsenals, the two largest in the world.
To ensure those limits are met and kept, the treaty also allows Washington and Moscow to keep tabs on the other’s nuclear programs through stringent inspections and data sharing, thereby curbing mistrust about each other’s nuclear and military plans.
At the time, it was heralded as a major achievement and is still considered such by top lawmakers.
“I stood behind President Obama in the Oval Office when he signed the New START agreement nine years ago. This landmark treaty has reduced the threat posed by nuclear weapons around the world,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, told me. “I’ll continue to urge the Trump administration to extend the New START treaty so we can keep safeguards in place that oversee Russia’s nuclear arsenal and ensure every measure is taken to shore up our national security.”
As of mid-July 2020, the two nations had exchanged more than 20,400 total notifications about the state of their arsenals.
Rose Gottemoeller, who led the New START negotiations for the US at the State Department, told me all that goes away if Trump decides not to stay in the agreement. “The Russians won’t allow for verifications and inspections without a legal basis,” she said. And without the ability to get deep insight into Russia’s nuclear forces, trust would surely erode.
“The exact thing which gives us an excellent understanding of Russian strategic forces is all going to break down,” said Gottemoeller, who in 2019 stepped down as NATO’s deputy secretary. “Unless you have access to verify what’s going on w ith the warheads on missiles or submarines, you don’t really understand what’s going on.”
Putin, Russia’s president, says he sees value in the deal. “Russia is not interested in starting an arms race and deploying missiles where they are not present now,” he told Russian officials in December. “Russia is ready to immediately, as soon as possible, by the end of this year, without any preconditions, extend the START Treaty so that there would be no further double or triple interpretation of our position.”
Trump hasn’t taken up Putin on his offer yet, even though those two could extend the agreement for up to five years without anyone else’s input.
If Washington is fretting the end of arms control, it sure isn’t acting like it — and neither is Moscow
So why get out of a deal that almost everyone says is vital to keeping US-Russia relations stable? The answer is China.
“We need to make sure that we’ve got all of the parties that are re levant as a component of this as well,” Pompeo told reporters in 2019, clearly alluding to China. ”It may be that we can’t get there. It may be that we just end up working with the Russians on this. But if we’re talking about a nuclear [capability] that presents risks to the United States, it’s very different today in the world.”
It’s a legitimate concern. Beijing has spent the past few years building up its missile arsenal. It has short-, intermediate-, and long-range missiles capable of making any military, including America’s, think twice about attacking it. And while it only has about 300 warheads, far fewer than the US and Russia, it has enough bombs and missiles to carry them to retaliate. If the US wants to drop a nuke on China, China can drop a nuke on the US right back.
That’s a big change from when the US and Russia signed New START almost a decade ago. Many in the Trump administration and outside experts argue it’s worth using the treaty’s imminent demise to pressure Moscow to either stop harming the US, such as with election interference, or get Beijing to join a broader arms control agreement.
In July, top US arms control negotiator Marshall Billingslea extended an “open invitation” to Chinese officials to join the US and Russia in Austria for New START talks, even though Beijing has long said it won’t sign on to New START since its arsenal is so much smaller than Washington’s and Moscow’s.
The Chinese government didn’t accept the offer, leading Billingslea to take a swipe at the country on Twitter.
That wasn’t taken well by Russia and China. The Russians asked for the flags to be taken down ahead of the meeting, and the top arms control official in China’s foreign ministry blasted Billingslea in response to the tweet.
What an odd scene! Displaying Chinese National Flags on a negotiating table without China’s consent!
Good luck on the extension of the New START!
Wonder how LOW you can go?
— Fu Cong 傅聪 (@FuCong17) June 22, 2020
It was a microcosm of the jam the US put itself in: New START — the last major arms control deal between the US and Russia — may expire if China doesn’t join in. It’s a deeply misguided stance, experts say.
“They [the Chinese government] don’t trust arms control,” Tong Zhao, a Beijing-based expert on China’s nuclear program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told me. “They don’t see it as a way to defend Chinese security interests. They view arms control as a way to control others’ military power, so they want to delay Chinese arms control as much as possible.”
“That mainstream view in China is entrenched and cynical,” Zhao continued. “It’ll take decades to change.”
That’s why nuclear experts like Nunn, the former US senator from Georgia, argues the US should at most try to get Beijing to make an anti-nuclear statement along wi th Washington and Moscow, but not try to get them to sign a new pact before February. “But in the long run,” Nunn made sure to say, “China needs to be involved” in an arms control agreement with the Americans and Russians.
Others are skeptical of the Trump administration’s intentions. While there is merit in discussing arms control with the Chinese — especially on issues of nuclear weapons, hypersonics, and cybersecurity — they say pushing for those talks on such a tight timeline is nothing short of a ruse to kill New START.
“It’s a phantom endeavor, an obvious ploy,” Taylor Fravel, an expert on China’s military strategy at MIT, told me. “Why would China join an agreement with much bigger arsenals than theirs?”
“It’s just not going to be easy for China to go along with strategic stability discussions,” he added.
Everyone I spoke to, though, noted Trump’s hard line on arms control with Russia and China is consistent with this administration’s nuclear approach. If Washington is fretting the end of arms control, it sure isn’t acting like it, and neither is Moscow.
The new arms race
“Arms control creates an additional layer of insurance between states not getting along well and a possible hot war,” Samuel Charap, who served as a senior adviser to Gottemoeller after New START entered into force, told me. “If you remove the failsafe, you create more risk.”
Without the longstanding architecture in place, Washington and Moscow would enter a dangerous arms control hiatus and could see already poor relations spiral out of control. The US and Russia have many nuclear-tipped missiles already pointed at each other, but it would be even worse if both sides try to one-up their adversary by creating more deadly and usable weapons.
That, unfortunately, is exactly what’s happening. Welcome to the new arms race.
Take the American side of this first: The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, relea sed in February 2018, lowered the threshold for dropping a bomb on an enemy.
Basically, the US said it would launch low-yield nuclear weapons — smaller, less deadly bombs — in response to non-nuclear strikes, such as a major cyberattack. That was in contrast with previous US administrations, which said they would respond with a nuke only in the event of the most egregious threats against the US, like the possible use of a biological weapon.
The document also calls for more, smaller weapons on submarines and other platforms to attack enemies. Many experts worry that having smaller nukes makes them more usable, thereby increasing the chance of a skirmish turning into a full-blown nuclear war. (Think, for example, of the US-China trade war escalating to the point that Trump thinks his only option is to launch a smaller nuke, or how Trump could respond to Beijing after a devastating cyberattack on US infrastructure.)
The US has already put its new nuclear strateg y into overdrive. America’s armed forces placed their first low-yield nuclear weapon on a submarine in February, which means Washington now has a stealthy and hard-to-defend-against way to deliver a nuke to almost any point on earth.
If you’re in Moscow or Beijing, this may all be alarming news. In the US, the wisdom of these decisions depends on whom you ask.
Thomas Countryman, the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation from 2011 to 2017, thinks the move ratchets up the chance for nuclear war.
“It would be practically impossible to prevent a limited use of nuclear weapons from escalating into an all-out strategic exchange of weapons,” he said, implying bigger nukes would soon follow the smaller ones. “The willingness to contemplate such use makes it more likely that [a strike with a low-yield nuclear weapon] will occur at some point.”
Matthew Kroenig, a nuclear expert at the Atlantic Council think tank, has a different take. He told me in 2018 that having smaller tactical weapons is a good idea. Our current arsenal, which prioritizes older and bigger nukes, leads adversaries to think we would never use it. Having smaller bombs that America might deploy, then, makes the chance of a nuclear conflict less likely. “It gives us more options to threaten that limited response,” Kroenig told me. “We raise the bar with these lower-yield weapons.”
But the US isn’t just experimenting with low-yield bombs. The Trump administration’s plans include spending more taxpayer dollars on nuclear development, including another new submarine-launched bomb. There are also new funds to develop conventional intermediate-range missiles, the same ones the INF Treaty prohibited.
The US, then, is off to the races. What’s more troublesome is that the Russians are, too.
In March 2018, Putin gave a dramatic speech to his nation in which he boasted about creating new, unstoppable weapons.
He said Russia was working on a cruise missile, powered by nuclear technology, that could reach the United States; nuclear weapons that could evade any missile defense system; and unfindable drone submarines that could be used to blow up foreign ports.
Experts at the time told me the most impressive new weapon Putin revealed was the nuclear-powered cruise missile he claimed could hit any point on the planet. (That’s big: Conventional cruise missiles rarely travel more than 600 miles.) This kind of weapon moves so quickly and flies so low to the ground that it could evade US and European missile defense systems and hit intended targets with a nuclear weapon.
Putin said the new technology would render American missile defense “useless,” but US officials say it needs further testing and is not yet operational. In fact, a radioactive explosion in 2019 in Russia may have been caused by a failed test of this very weapon.
But Moscow has succeeded in another area: hypersonic weapons. In December, t he Russian military said it deployed one for the first time, a claim American officials don’t particularly doubt. It’s a provocative move, as this kind of missile could carry a warhead at about 3,800 miles per hour, fast enough to make it near-impossible for any defense system to stop it.
It looks like the Russians beat the Americans to the hypersonic punch. The US doesn’t plan to have a similar projectile in its arsenal until 2022 at the earliest, though that timeline is optimistic for many.
Despite all this, experts I spoke to said Moscow doesn’t really want an arms race. The Soviets already lost one to the US during the Cold War. Now that Russia has big economic problems, it could ill afford to engage in a long-term spending spree on weaponry.
“If there’s any country least ready for an arms race right now, it’s Russia,” Miller, the expert on Russian history at the Fletcher School, told me. “Even if they started the race a couple years ahead by violating th e INF Treaty, that doesn’t give me or many people the confidence they’ll end the race ahead in 20 or 30 years.”
This would explain why Putin wants to extend New START so badly, and why the US believes it could use that desire as leverage. What’s certain is that the administration argues it’s no longer the time for old-school arms control ideas, as a top State Department arms control official, Christopher Ford, made clear in a February speech.
“I want to replace them with a discourse much more likely to be relevant to current conditions, more likely to improve real-world outcomes, and much less desperately maladaptive in the contemporary geopolitical environment of great power competition,” he told a London audience. “It should be increasingly clear that this arms control pathology is a completely inappropriate and even dangerous answer to the problems of international peace and security in today’s complex and challenging world, and we’re not shy about pointing this ou t.”
But at this rate, what he and Trump may get instead is no arms control at all.
“You’re pouring gasoline onto a fire”
If you’re starting to fear that a nuclear war is coming, the good news is the chance of one remains very low. The US and Russia have every incentive to avoid such a disaster, and they have done so thus far, in even the tensest moments.
But it’s fair to say many are worried about the long-term implications of current tensions. “You’re pouring gasoline onto a fire, and accelerating all of these trends to arms racing and proliferation globally,” says Nicholas Miller, a nuclear expert at Dartmouth College. “It could be quite dangerous.”
Three main consequences of the imminent death of arms control as we know it are broadly expected.
First, the US may lose global legitimacy as a leader in stopping nuclear proliferation. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), an international agreement to stem the spread of nuclear weapons around the world. None of the largest nuclear weapons states have signed on to it, but that’s because of an implicit understanding.
“The NPT is supposed to be a bargain between those that don’t have nuclear weapons and those that do,” said Middlebury’s Bidgood. “Non-nuclear weapons states expect those that have them to disarm, and if they don’t, then non-nuclear nations might leave the treaty because why would they limit their own capability?”
A review conference for the treaty was supposed to take place in April but was postponed due to the coronavirus. Whenever it meets, the lack of US-Russia arms control commitment could make it the testiest gathering in decades. Some may seriously push for the NPT to be dissolved. And if that’s the case, what’s to stop nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, or others from sprinting toward the bomb?
Second, the end of an important era in global security fades away wi th nothing to replace or build on it. “The good old days when arms control was going hand-in-hand with a cooperative security relationship — which basically ties my security to your security — those days are gone, and I don’t see them coming back,” said the University of Hamburg’s Kühn. The only chance of a return to that time, he added, would likely be after Trump, Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping leave their offices.
But by then, it’s possible the arms control muscle may have atrophied.
Third, yes, the risk of a nuclear exchange between the world’s foremost powers will go up. Few I spoke to, though, argued that possibility would grow immediately.
Gottemoeller told me she thinks Washington and Moscow would show some goodwill toward each other in the short term. But over time, tensions would surely rise as they lose insight into what the other is planning.
“Each side will accuse the other of breaking out” of New START’s restrictions and may re vert to banned practices, like putting nets over silos to keep them from satellite observation. “I can see a period of mutual recrimination and possibly a build-up of strategic forces,” but perhaps not missile forces because of their immense cost, Gottemoeller continued.
That’s why experts like Nunn want the US and Russia to take new negotiations seriously. “If you have over 90 percent of the weapons that can destroy God’s universe, you have a responsibility to talk,” he told me.
There are reasons for optimism.
Washington and Moscow are having conversations now, including a working-level meeting in July in Vienna. Even though the administration is skeptical of arms control, and Billingslea is not a fan of the concept, Trump’s team at least hasn’t outright rejected negotiations.
However unlikely now, the two powers could come to an agreement before New START’s expiration on February 5. If they don’t, a newly elected Joe Biden could quickly reach a dea l with Putin before the deadline, though he’d have limited time since his term would start in late January. “The election in November will be a major inflection point for New START specifically,” Moniz, the former energy secretary who helped strike the Iran nuclear deal, told me. “If Biden wins, I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t extend New START.”
And perhaps the future of arms control will feature more executive agreements, like the Iran deal, and fewer treaties, in large part due to the rancorous politics in Washington. That would mean the power to make nuclear pacts would shift in an even greater direction to a president.
This moment could be just a blip in an otherwise positive, decades-long story of how two enemies found a way to pull back from the brink.
But when I asked experts if they felt arms control may soon be a thing of the past, the nearly unanimous sentiment was resigned acceptance. “My heart says no, but my head says yes,” Charap, who’s now at the RAND Corporation, told me after a long sigh. “The arms control era doesn’t have to come to an end, but it seems like it is.”
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