In an interview with Reuters last week President Donald Trump asserted that the United States’ current nuclear arms treaty with Russia – New START – was a “one-sided” deal.
“It’s a one-sided deal like all other deals we make. It’s a one-sided deal,” President Trump said. “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.”
During the course of the interview President Trump also reiterated his stance on expanding the United States’ nuclear capabilities.
“We’ve fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity. And I am the first one that would like to see… 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,” President Trump said, adding that the United States must remain at “the top of the pack.”
New START, or the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, was signed in April of 2010 and later ratified in December of the following year. Among its requirements, both countries must limit the number of deployed warheads and launchers by February 2018.
The agreement, signed after a year of tough negotiations, was heralded both at home and abroad as a new beginning for the two countries.
“As a result of hard work, we have created a treaty that fully complies with the interests of both Russia and the U.S.,” then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said. “And the most important thing is that there are no winners or losers. It’s a win-win situation.”
According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a national non-partisan group that has advocated for a global reduction in nuclear weapons since the 1980s, New START’s provisions limit the arsenals of both countries and strengthen verification measures used to ensure compliance.
The treaty follows a long line of similar agreements including 2002’s SORT, or the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, and 1991’s START.
As stated by former Congressman John Tierney, the Executive Director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, New START “equally caps the number of weapons both the U.S. and Russia can deploy” to 1,550.
Tierney, who noted the $1 trillion cost in merely overhauling and maintaining the U.S. arsenal, also asserted that even with equal stockpiles, the United States would still remain the most advanced nuclear power.
“No U.S. military leader would trade our nuclear weapons for the Russian stockpile, let alone any other nuclear power’s arsenal,” Tierney said.
Given the devastating power of nuclear weapons, a larger stockpile past a certain point no longer becomes an advantage. In fact, the Department of Defense has stated that Russia “would not be able to achieve a militarily significant advantage by any plausible expansion of its strategic nuclear forces, even in a cheating or breakout scenario under the New START Treaty…”
A graphic showing the number of weapons owned by the world’s nuclear powers also reveals how no other countries come close to the United States and Russia – who collectively possess 92 percent of the globe’s nuclear inventory.
President Trump’s desire to withdraw from New START in favor of brokering a new treaty is likely rooted in both his background as a businessman and ardent negotiator as well as his campaign promise to put America first – especially in relation to bilateral agreements.
But experts argue that not all deals, especially those concerning nuclear weapons, can work if one side is perceived to have a dominant advantage. And failure to find common ground could result in the same dangerous escalations seen during the decades-long Cold War.
“The United States and Russia should work together to build down, not build up,” writes Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association.
“In reality, New START has advanced U.S. and global interests by lowering and capping the two nation’s excessive strategic deployed nuclear arsenals, both of which remained poised on ‘launch-under-attack’ alert status, meaning that thousands of nuclear weapons could be launched by the U.S. and Russian leaders within minutes of a presidential order.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also expressed support for New START during his confirmation hearing earlier this year.
“I think, again, this is an area where we have to stay engaged with Russia, hold them accountable to commitments made under the New START and also ensure that we are in a position to meet our accountability as well,” Tillerson said.
“In general, and with respect to New START specifically, the United States should abide by our international commitments-provided, of course, that our partners continue to fulfill their obligations as well.”
President Trump has long expressed a desire to increase cooperation between the United States and Russia. With New START, the president can continue the bipartisan policy, in place since President Ronald Reagan, of nuclear reduction.
“Our moral imperative is to work with all our powers for that day when the children of the world grow up without the fear of nuclear war” – President Ronald Reagan.