In this year’s presidential election, arms-control agreements haven’t featured in campaign ads or Twitter feuds. But perhaps they should. The election will have serious consequences for the future of global nuclear-weapons proliferation, and may determine whether the last arms-control agreement remains standing.
The New START Treaty, a 2010 agreement with Russia, is set to expire on February 5, 2021. Negotiated by the Obama administration, the deal limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads, missile launchers, and heavy bombers in Russia and the United States. It also implements new measures to verify compliance with the agreement. Since 2010, both the United States and Russia have upheld the treaty’s terms, and, despite some opposition, the agreement enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress.
Enter Donald Trump, who has no time for international cooperation or careful diplomacy, and can’t resist trashing an Obama project. During Trump’s first call from the White House with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin suggested extending the treaty. In response, Trump dismissed New START as one of his predecessor’s very bad deals. In December 2019, Putin asked Trump to renew the treaty, unamended, for five more years. Instead, the Trump administration tried to extract new concessions from Russia by insisting on a trilateral deal that included China, an invitation that Beijing has repeatedly rejected. The administration has also demanded that any renewal of New START be accompanied by a more thorough agreement limiting both U.S. and Russian weapons—strategic and tactical, nuclear and conventional, deployed and undeployed.