From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The End of START and Why The U.S. Can’t “Win” an Arms Race With Russia and China
Date May 31, 2020 12:00 AM
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[Trump’s childish nuclear gambling and obsessive jingoism have
combined in a strategy that could end arms control as we know it.
Trump is seeking to end the Obama-era nuclear arms treaty with Russia,
and for election purposes, blame it on the Chinese.]
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THE END OF START AND WHY THE U.S. CAN’T “WIN” AN ARMS RACE WITH
RUSSIA AND CHINA  
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Ankit Panda
May 27, 2020
The New Republic
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_ Trump’s childish nuclear gambling and obsessive jingoism have
combined in a strategy that could end arms control as we know it.
Trump is seeking to end the Obama-era nuclear arms treaty with Russia,
and for election purposes, blame it on the Chinese. _

Marshall Billingslea, Trump’s Envoy for Arms Control. In the heart
of a horrible pandemic and a huge recession he pledges to spend Russia
and China “into oblivion” to win a new nuclear arms race., Valsts
Kanceleja/ Latvia State Chancellery

 

The president who told the American people
[[link removed]] that
“trade wars are good, and easy to win” now appears equally
confident about “winning” a nuclear arms race. Last week, Donald
Trump made a half-baked, ill-advised
[[link removed]]decision
to pull the United States out of its Open Skies Treaty
[[link removed]] with
Russia; now, his administration is signaling plans to blow up the last
major security accord standing, the 2010 Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty, or New START, with Russia, and thus open the door to an arms
race.

In a streaming Q&A
[[link removed]] with
the Hudson Institute last week, Marshall Billingslea, Trump’s
arms-control envoy, conceded that major-power nuclear accords were
vital to human security, but he added that if New START fell apart,
everything would be fine. “The president’s made clear that we
have a tried-and-true practice here,” Billingslea said. “We know
how to win these [arms] races. And we know how to spend the adversary
into oblivion.”

In a little over seven months, New START is set to expire, and the
Trump administration is threatening to disregard the agreement’s
five-year extension provision—a no-brainer renewal that would be
routinely approved under a normal administration—unless China joins
the talks and Russia makes additional concessions. If Washington
blocks New START’s extension, then as of February 5, 2021, the
nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia will be without legal limits
for the first time in decades. In that world, the treaty’s
verification measures—the sort that allowed American inspectors
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see Russia’s fancy new hypersonic boost-gliding intercontinental
ballistic missile warhead
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instance—would evaporate. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already offered
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extend the treaty without preconditions, but skeptics in the
administration see Putin’s eagerness on the matter as weakness,
interpreting it as evidence that their hard-line stance is working to
raise anxieties in Moscow. If the U.S. is willing to let New START
collapse, the onus remains on Washington to show what will come after
it. But just as there was no Trump plan to actually “win” a trade
war with China, there isn’t any plan for guaranteeing American
security in a new post-treaty arms race.

Billingslea’s casual suggestion that the U.S. knows “how to win”
an arms race is wrongheaded but common enough: Despite the Soviet
Union’s demise, neither Washington nor Moscow “won” the Cold
War–era arms race. Instead, to manage the costs of unconstrained
nuclear competition—and to reduce the risks of an undesired nuclear
war—the two parties saw fit to discuss mutual limitations and sign
multiple treaties. The “victory,” such as it was,
actually _culminated_ with New START’s predecessor agreements.

But more troublingly, Billingslea’s assertion that the U.S.
“know[s] how to spend the adversary into oblivion” seems slightly
deranged in the middle of a once-in-a-century global pandemic that’s
caused the highest U.S. unemployment rate since the Great Depression
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which lawmakers have tried to slow with $3 trillion in economic
relief
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with trillions more likely needed
[[link removed]]. 

Of course, Billingslea knows a thing or two about spending into
oblivion. After starting his career as a defense adviser to the late
Senator Jesse Helms, Billingslea worked in the Pentagon during the
George W. Bush administration, helping to spend an estimated $6.4
trillion on post-9/11 overseas wars
[[link removed]] that
have killed 800,000 people worldwide and displaced 21 million. (His
arms-control duties for Trump are a consolation prize, granted to him
after his nomination to the State Department’s top human rights
post stalled out
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his role in Bush-era torture of detainees.) If spending without
results is what’s being promised, Billingslea might have a case.

Even if the U.S. weren’t facing a second Depression and suffering
from epochal deficit expansion following Trump’s 2018 tax cuts
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as an unelected presidential envoy, Billingslea simply has no standing
to argue that the U.S. will spend lavishly on nuclear weapons “if we
have to”—that is, if he fails at his primary job, negotiating.
Those fiscal priorities are up to Congress, which has spent heavily
on defense in recent years
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to pull back from an increasingly contentious Middle East, fight to a
stalemate in Afghanistan, and suffer corruption and civil unrest at
home. Nuclear arsenal notwithstanding, the U.S. is looking more like
the late-stage Soviet Union than an unconstrained hegemon.

There’s a tragic irony in the White House bracing for an arms race
to prove it’s serious about getting China to the arms-control table.
China, like all nuclear weapons states, should take steps to reduce
its counts, but the Beijing nuclear arsenal amounts to about 5
percent of America’s atomic arms stockpile
[[link removed]]: By
one estimate, France holds more nuclear warheads than China
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Even if you take at face value the Defense Intelligence Agency
assessment
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China will look to double its arsenal in the years ahead, its total
stockpile of warheads would still be well below half the limits that
New START places on Russian and American warheads.
(Beijing’s _deployed _warhead counts would be far lower yet,
possibly in the low double-digits; the U.S. can deploy that
many warheads [[link removed]] on
just one or two of its 14 ballistic-missile submarines
[[link removed]].)

Nor has China’s essential nuclear posture—relying on a small
number of dispersed nuclear weapons for
deterrence-by-punishment—changed since the 1960s. Though a debate
exists
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China on the appropriate size of its own nuclear arsenal
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those at the levers of nuclear policy have seen fit to maintain the
country’s comparatively modest deterrence posture. As much as
American national security culture obsesses over nuclear inferiority,
there’s simply not much enthusiasm in Beijing to outpace the U.S.
here in any meaningful way. 

The Trump administration’s theory of why arms-racing might be
desirable remains inchoate at best and delusional at worst. One
explanation is that it flows from the basic hegemonic militarism
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has defined the White House’s choices on defense policy. In his days
as a candidate, Trump moaned that the American
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is old and tired,” while Russia’s was “tippy top, from what I
hear.”

In fairness, the administration’s stated focus on multilateralizing
arms control with Russia and China isn’t a bad one. At some point,
China _will _have to come to the table. But holding New START
hostage to Beijing’s participation—a nonstarter in the short time
remaining before the treaty’s lapse—suggests an entire lack of
good faith in the White House. 

Negotiating in good faith requires seriously hearing out what the
other side would want out of an exchange; today, there’s not much to
go on, since the U.S. and China haven’t held official talks on
“strategic stability” in years. The administration could, of
course, propose such exploratory talks with Beijing while moving ahead
with New START’s five-year extension to preserve the status quo with
Russia. Instead, what we’re left with is bad faith: a desire to show
that an attempt was made to bring China in, but Beijing demurred, and
so New START had to die.

If you want a more secure, stable world, that’s not a great
strategy. But if you’re looking to goose American exceptionalism
by whipping citizens into a Sinophobic froth
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a time when America looks more and more like other disappointingly
dissembling regimes, you could do worse. “If China wants to be a
great power, and we know it has that self-image, it needs to behave
like one,” Billingslea said, without any hint of irony. This sort of
unilateral, I’m-the-grown-up-here dictating of terms hasn’t worked
for the U.S. with Iran or North Korea: It certainly won’t work with
China or Russia. To be interested in what works, however, the Trump
administration would need a certain pragmatism about statecraft that
has been absent from day one. What remains is oblivion, and how much
treasure this White House is willing to expend in bringing it a little
closer.

[_Ankit Panda is an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of
American Scientists and a senior editor at The Diplomat
[[link removed]]. Follow him on Twitter
at @nktpnd [[link removed]]._]

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