In his Thursday interview with Reuters, President Donald Trump was strongly critical of the New START arms control treaty with Russia, dismissing it as “just another bad deal that the country made.”
Reuters provides a brief background of the treaty, which went into effect in 2011:
The new strategic arms limitation treaty, known as New START, between the United States and Russia requires that by February 5, 2018, both countries must limit their arsenals of strategic nuclear weapons to equal levels for 10 years.
The treaty permits both countries to have no more than 800 deployed and non-deployed land-based intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped to carry nuclear weapons, and contains equal limits on other nuclear weapons.
Analysts have questioned whether Trump wants to abrogate New START or would begin deploying other warheads.
President Trump had this to say about New START in the Reuters interview:
It’s a one-sided deal like all other deals we make. It’s a one-sided deal. It gave them things that we should have never allowed. … Just another bad deal that the country made, whether it’s START, whether it’s the Iran deal, which is one of the bad deals ever made. Our country only made bad deals, we don’t make good deals. So we’re going to start making good deals.
He also criticized Russia for deploying a new cruise missile, calling it a “big deal” and promising to bring it up with Russian President Vladimir Putin if they ever meet “because it’s a violation of an agreement that we have.”
The New York Times reviewed the nature of that treaty violation on February 14, when news of the cruise missile deployment broke:
The ground-launched cruise missile at the center of American concerns is one that the Obama administration said in 2014 had been tested in violation of a 1987 treaty that bans American and Russian intermediate-range missiles based on land.
The Obama administration had sought to persuade the Russians to correct the violation while the missile was still in the test phase. Instead, the Russians have moved ahead with the system, deploying a fully operational unit.
It would appear that the Obama administration’s effort to “persuade” the Russians to “correct the violation” didn’t amount to much.
Trump stated in the Reuters interview that America has “fallen behind on nuclear weapons capacity.”
He said it would be a “wonderful dream” if no country had nuclear weapons, “but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”
The Intercept used these remarks to accuse Trump of wanting to “set off a new nuclear arms race” by inviting “other nuclear powers to escalate their capabilities.” also criticizing President Obama for investing in nuclear modernization instead of dramatically reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, as some national security officials in the Obama administration recommended.
Conversely, DefenseNews speculates that Trump could be imperiling the bipartisan consensus for trillion-dollar nuclear modernization in Washington by criticizing New START so forcefully. Ironically, the next generation of U.S. nuclear-capable cruise missile is said to be one of the first systems that could be cut if Congressional support for modernization weakens, just as Russia is deploying treaty-busting advanced cruise missiles.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton argued at the Wall Street Journal that Trump was correct to call New START a “bad deal” after he reportedly did so during a telephone conversation with Putin:
From America’s perspective, New Start is an execrable deal, a product of Cold War nostrums about reducing nuclear tensions. Arms-control treaties, properly conceived and drafted, should look like George W. Bush’s 2002 Treaty of Moscow: short (three pages), with broad exit ramps and sunset provisions.
Although President Obama had considerable help from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in this diplomatic failure, Russia was hardly blameless. Moscow subsequently exploited the treaty’s weaknesses to rebuild and modernize its arsenal of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, while Mr. Obama stood idly by. Republican senators opposed New Start’s ratification, 26-13 (three of them didn’t vote), as did 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.Mr. Trump’s remarks are therefore squarely in the party’s mainstream.
“Let’s raise our glasses to Mr. Trump’s disdain for New START, not to mention the Iran nuclear deal, and hope for more of the same,” Bolton recommended. “The new president ought to strengthen the sanctions, reassure NATO allies (while juicing them to meet their commitments on military spending), and then have coffee with Vlad. Negotiate only from positions of strength.”