Negotiations between the United States and Russia on the vital matter of nuclear-arms control have descended into farce. This week, President Donald Trump touted that a breakthrough agreement was imminent with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Similarly optimistic, if not delusional, remarks of an “agreement in principle” were made this week separately by Mike Pompeo, the U.S.’ top diplomat, as well as Trump’s special envoy on arms control, Marshall Billingslea.
The sanguine posturing by the Trump administration amounts to absurd grandstanding. It’s obvious that with three weeks to the presidential election there is an attempt to inflate the image of Trump into a master deal-maker and hence to score some “good news” for the American people in a bid to boost his re-election ambitions.
What’s going on here is unscrupulous and shabby gimmicking around with the onerous matter of global security. The main issue at hand is the New START accord governing limitations on strategic nuclear weapons. The treaty came into effect in 2011 and is due to expire in February next year, only four months away. It is the last-remaining arms-control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, specifically limiting the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles deployed by either side. Given that the U.S. and Russia together possess over 90 per cent of the world’s total stockpile of these weapons, it is incumbent on both to secure the landmark treaty.
It should be noted that Washington has already abandoned several arms-control treaties: the Anti-Ballistic Missile accord, the INF treaty, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Open Skies Treaty.
However, there is no need for dramatics seen this week from the U.S. side. The New START accord allows for a five-year extension if both sides simply agree to it. The Trump administration seems to be creating an illusion of “breakthrough” in deal-making when all that is required is for both sides to calmly agree to an extension. Russia has consistently advocated for an extension of the New START without preconditions as a bridge towards a longer-term, more comprehensive regime of arms control taking into account new concerns about strategic stability, such as weaponization of space and missile defense systems.
It is the Trump administration which is using the issue of extension as leverage for demanding conditions. It is withholding extension to extract concessions from Russia, such as including China into negotiations (but not American NATO allies) and latterly demanding a freeze on short-range nuclear weapons. It should be noted that there was already a treaty on limiting short-range, or tactical, nuclear warheads – the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) accord, which the Trump administration resiled from last year.
Despite earlier warnings from Russia, as well as from some European and American politicians, that the New START was in danger of falling into obsolescence, the Trump administration had adopted a cavalier indifference towards negotiations. It was only until this summer that the White House began to engage in negotiations to renew the treaty. But even then it became clear that the Americans were playing cheap politics. The opening of bilateral talks in Vienna in June involved a facetious propaganda stunt by U.S. negotiators aimed at shaming China into joining discussions. Such a ridiculous drama and fabrication purporting to show empty Chinese seats at the venue was nevertheless an eye-opener into the lack of professionalism and integrity on the U.S. side as an honest partner.
It is evident that the U.S. side has been using the threat of an arms race as pressure on the Russian side to capitulate to its unilateral demands. Russia has stood firm on its position that it will not sign up to unilateral conditions set by Washington for New START. It is because of unethical and puerile politicking by the U.S. which has resulted in the New START heading for expiry. Global security is gravely being undermined precisely because of American shenanigans.
Democrat contender Joe Biden has indicated that if he is elected to the White House on November 3, he will sign an immediate five-year extension to New START. That may well turn out to be a vote-winner for Biden. But it shouldn’t come down this, whereby global security is being jeopardized because of American bad faith.
A major contemporary talking-point across the globe is the rapid decline in American international standing. There are many ways to illustrate the waning of U.S. power and reputation, from backsliding on international agreements, to the imposition of callous sanctions against stricken nations, to the uncouth squabbling in its so-called presidential debates. But the grubby duplicity and irresponsible conduct of the Trump administration regarding its obligations on nuclear-arms control and global security is a particularly lamentable demonstration of American disgrace.