Thursday, February 23, 2017
Trump Stops START (because he's an idiot)
Hey happy days. Trump reiterated today that he plans to start another nuclear arms race.
President Donald Trump said on Thursday he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal to ensure it is at the "top of the pack," saying the United States has fallen behind in its atomic weapons capacity.
In a Reuters interview, Trump also said China could solve the national security challenge posed by North Korea "very easily if they want to," ratcheting up pressure on Beijing to exert more influence to rein in Pyongyang's increasingly bellicose actions.
In his first comments about the U.S. nuclear arsenal since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump said the United States has "fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity."
“I am the first one that would like to see everybody - nobody have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country, we’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.
"It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack," Trump said.
The new strategic arms limitation treaty, known as New START, between the U.S. 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.
In the interview, Trump called New START "a one-sided deal.
"Just another bad deal that the country made, whether it's START, whether it's the Iran deal ... We're going to start making good deals," he said.
I suspect Russia won't be too upset about this. President Putin already pulled out of one nuclear agreement. He's with the program.
As this piece by Jeet Heer in the New Republic from last December points out, Trump has long seen an alliance with Russia on nuclear dominance but, as usual, he's an ignorant fool about the reality:
[G]oing back to at least 1987, Trump has believed that it is in America’s best interest to join forces with the Soviet Union to fight emerging powers. In a recently resurfaced interview from 1987 with Ron Rosenbaum, Trump laid out the case for the world’s two major superpowers to work as a team. “Most of those [pre-nuclear] countries are in one form or another dominated by the U.S. and the Soviet Union,” Trump told Rosenbaum. “Between those two nations you have the power to dominate any of those countries.” Trump then suggested that Pakistan, which at that point didn’t have nuclear weapons, could be prevented from doing so by the U.S. and Soviet Union’s “powers of retaliation.”
“You think Pakistan would just fold?” Rosenbaum asked. “We wouldn’t have to offer them anything in return?” Trump’s response was a chilling summary of how he thinks nuclear non-proliferation would work: “Maybe we should offer them something. I’m saying you start off as nicely as possible. You apply as much pressure as necessary until you achieve the goal. You start off telling them, ‘Let’s get rid of it.’ If that doesn’t work you then start cutting off aid. And more aid and then more. You do whatever is necessary so these people will have riots in the street, so they can’t get water. So they can’t get Band-Aids, so they can’t get food. Because that’s the only thing that’s going to do it—the people, the riots.”
Provoking instability and riots in countries that are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons is a risky policy, especially if it is done with the stated goal of keeping America and Russia in a position to “dominate” the non-nuclear countries. For one thing, such a policy would create an incentive for non-nuclear powers to join the nuclear club as quickly as possible, so that they won’t be destabilized. Further, destabilizing a nation like Iran (surely one of the potential targets for such a policy) would inevitably create safe havens for terrorist groups and generate refugee crises, as we’ve seen with George W. Bush’s Iraq adventure.
Much has changed since 1987. The Soviet Union is no more, and its successor state, Russia, is a diminished global power. But Trump’s vision of the world has remained strikingly static. In the ’80s, as now, he sees the U.S. and Russia as status quo powers beset by turbulent upstart nations, and thus, as having essentially similar goals. Writing in Quartz, the journalist Sarah Kendzior argued such a friendship could lead to “the new mutually assured destruction: the two states with the most nuclear weapons in the world, both backed by authoritarian leaders, may be partnering against as-yet unknown shared enemies.”
A U.S.-Russian alliance, with both nations building up their nuclear stockpiles and intimidating emerging powers, has a certain superficial coherence. But in practice, it would be nearly impossible to execute. Putin doesn’t have the same list of major foes as Trump does. In Syria, they do seem to agree about the need to bolster the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad to end the civil war there. But on Iran, Putin supports the nuclear deal that Trump and his team seem eager to challenge, if not rip apart. Since 2014, Putin has worked vigorously to improve Russia’s ties to China, leading to increased trade and military co-operation; Trump is flirting with a trade war with China. While Putin might be happy to work with a more amenable U.S. administration, there’s little reason to think he’s would join an American alliance against China. As a practical matter, Russia’s ambitions are clearly directed towards regaining a sphere of influence in central Europe and the Middle East.
Putin and Trump both dream of their countries dominating the globe, as they did in the Cold War. That might be enough to start them on the road to friendlier relations. An arms race wouldn’t impede that. But in terms of agreeing on global issues, Trump might yet find that working with Russia is a bright idea that quickly runs aground of reality. And if relations sour after an attempted rapprochement, there could be a return to superpower nuclear rivalries. After all, both America and Russia will be building up their arsenals, and if they go back to viewing each other with distrust, then nuclear weapons would be a logical terrain for competition. Trump’s proposed reconcilement with Russia is a genuinely ambitious gambit, but one that could take him down the exact opposite path he is hoping for.
And if it comes down to a mindgame between Trump and Putin, I think I'd have to bet on the ex-KGB agent over the gibbering imbecile. But that's just me.
Some more on what Putin has been up to on this issue, here and here.
digby 2/23/2017 02:30:00 PM