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On weapons treaties US administration is blundering toward nuclear chaos

 

Fumbling the nuclear football: is Trump blundering to arms control chaos?

The president believes he alone can negotiate away nuclear weapons and win a Nobel prize – but he has quit three treaties and gutted his administration of experts, Guardian,   Julian Borger in Washington Sun 24 May 2020

The Trump administration signaled this week that it was ready to get back in the business of nuclear arms control. A newly appointed envoy, Marshall Billingslea, made his first public remarks to announce talks with Russia are about to resume.

“We have concrete ideas for our next interaction, and we’re finalizing the details as we speak,” Billingslea said.

The fact that this relaunch came on the same day that the US was pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty (OST) – the third withdrawal from an arms control agreement under the Trump presidency – underlined the contradictions at the heart of the administration’s approach towards nuclear weapons.

According to those who have worked for him on the issue, Trump is preoccupied with the existential threat of nuclear war, and resolved that he alone can conjure a grand arms control bargain that would save the planet – and win him the Nobel prize.

But at the same time, he is clearly thrilled by the destructive power that the US arsenal gives him, boasting about the size of his nuclear button, and a mystery “super duper” missile he this week claimed the US had up its sleeve.

Administration officials have been left to try to confect a coherent-sounding policy out of such contradictory impulses – so far without success.

“He believes only he has what it takes to make the big deal, if only everyone else – all the experts – would get out of his way,” a former senior official said. “But he just has no idea about how to make it happen.”

Billingslea, the new envoy, is not an arms control specialist. He previously served as the undersecretary for terrorist financing at the US Treasury and was nominated last year to the top human rights job at the state department – but that foundered amid controversy over his involvement in the post 9/11 torture programme . The arms control envoy job did not require Senate confirmation.

In his maiden speech as envoy, Billingslea made clear that if there were to be a new arms race, the US would win.

“We know how to win these races and we know how to spend the adversary into oblivion,” he said in a videoconference organised by the conservative Hudson Institute thinktank on Thursday. It was a statement of bravado as the US plunged into recession owing about $7tn in foreign debt, $1tn to China.

Billingslea argued Trump would succeed through his mastery of the art of the deal.

“The president has a long and successful career as a negotiator, and he’s a master at developing and using leverage,” he said, showing an early instinct for what it takes to keep your job in this administration.

So far, however, Trump has failed to negotiate a single arms control agreement. His flamboyant summitry with Kim Jong-un produced nothing, and the North Korean nuclear weapons programme has continued unabated. Meanwhile the president has taken the US out of three arms control agreements, leaving them dead, dying or maimed.

He walked out of the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, and the following year withdrew from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which had kept nuclear missiles out of Europe since the cold war. Then on Thursday, he confirmed the US was leaving the OST, agreed in 1992 as a means of building transparency and trust between Russia and the west through observation overflights of each other’s territory.

That may not be the end of Trump’s arms control demolition. The Senate never ratified the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban treaty, which – partly as a result – has yet to come into force. But the US has signed it and observes a voluntary moratorium on nuclear tests.

Hawks in the administration, however, want a renunciation. At a high-level White House meeting last week, the suggestion was raised that the US carry out its first underground nuclear test since 1992, according to former officials. The proposal was resisted by the state and energy departments. A senior administration official told the Washington Post however the proposal is “very much an ongoing conversation.”

The only arms control agreement still in effect is the 2010 New Start treaty, which limits US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 each. It is due to expire in February but it can be extended for another five years. The Trump administration has not taken a position on whether it wants an extension, however.

“There’ll be plenty of time to look at the full range of options related to that treaty,” Billingslea said. At the same time he made clear he viewed New Start as being inadequate, criticising its verification requirements, its exclusion of non-strategic, shorter-range weapons – and, most importantly, the fact that it does not include China……

Arms control advocates in the administration believe that the insistence on China’s inclusion was originally pushed by Trump’s third national security adviser, John Bolton, a lifelong opponent of arms control treaties, and his like-minded aide, Tim Morrison, as a means of killing off New Start.

……Disarmament advocates worry that even if Billingslea re-establishes regular contacts with Moscow, the US no longer has the diplomatic muscle to pursue substantive, complex arms negotiations because of the steady loss of experienced staff responsible for such negotiations.

“It’s not obvious they have a kind of a serious team in place to try and make that happen,” a western diplomat said.

“Three years after entering office, the Trump administration lacks a coherent set of goals, a strategy to achieve them, or the personnel or effective policy process to address the most complex set of nuclear risks in US history,” a group of arms control experts wrote in a report this month by the disarmament group, Global Zero. “Put simply, the current US administration is blundering toward nuclear chaos with potentially disastrous consequences.” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/24/nuclear-weapons-donald-trump-arms-control-chaos

May 25, 2020 - Posted by | politics international, USA, weapons and war

2 Comments »

  1. The lady who publishes this is a sane person. People who suffer, as collateral damage to this criminality, know how brutal it is. The rest are just letting themselves be poisoned and begging for horrible deaths . Horrible sadistic deaths, for all their loved ones. Pathological, stupid and crazy

    Comment by Lewellen | May 25, 2020 | Reply


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