Now is not the best time to start a new arms race

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — We are being dragged into the unnecessary arms race by the very ideologists of the Cold War in the US who still occupy influential positions, the expert is sure. Commenting on the US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty and other agreements, the author insists that this is not the best time to escalate tensions.

As if the world was not enough chaos and dangers …

On Thursday, May 21, President Donald Trump’s special arms control representative announced that he was ready – and he could not wait – to launch an incredibly expensive arms race with Russia and China.

“The president made it clear that we have a time-tested practice on this issue,” said Marshall Billingslea on Thursday at the Hudson Institute in Washington. “We know how to win victories in such races, and we know how to completely ruin the enemy.” He added that “we would certainly like to avoid this,” but “if necessary, we will do it.”

As part of the prelude to this campaign, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, an arms control agreement signed in 1992. This was a completely predictable continuation of his decision to withdraw from the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate and Shorter-Range Missiles, which U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed in 1987. Another extremely important agreement, the new offensive arms reduction treaty (START III), signed by Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, expires in February 2021.

If Trump wanted to extend the START-III treaty, and the Russians did not want this, then it would be clear why it was necessary to threaten the start of a new arms race. But in fact, everything is exactly the opposite: Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that he wants to extend the duration of this agreement, while Trump did not say anything like that.

Moreover, Billingsley has already emphasized that the United States will only discuss extending this treaty if China joins it, a rather strange demand, given that China has 10 times less long-range nuclear weapons than Russia or the United States, and Beijing has no desire to significantly increase its number. In fact, if the United States insists on involving China in a treaty stipulating the equality of the parties to it, this could force China to significantly increase its nuclear arsenal.

A few words should be said separately about Billingsley’s statement that struck everyone about the ease with which the United States is able to win an arms race and completely ruin its opponents. Firstly, it’s not at all easy. During the Cold War, the United States spent trillions of dollars trying to keep up with real and imaginary threats from Soviet nuclear forces. We did not win the Cold War because we “won” the arms race. The Soviet political system was completely exhausted due to the influence of many factors: stagnation in the economy, vast areas of the “empire”, the lost war in Afghanistan.

Reagan’s plans to create the Star Wars ballistic missile defense system – many Russians with touching naivety believed that this system could really work – played a role during his first presidential term. However, the reversal that began in the second term towards the Soviet Union and the emphasis on signing arms control agreements with the new Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev was of key importance.

Secondly, given the current coronavirus crisis, which is devastating our treasury and after which our economy will recover for several years, now, perhaps, is not a good time to brag about the strength that our cash reserves give us. The Pentagon is already planning to spend $ 1.7 trillion over the next 30 years to modernize the US nuclear arsenal – that is, to replace existing weapons with new weapons, taking into account the restrictions on the number of missiles, bombers and warheads prescribed in START III. In the US Congress, calls are increasingly being made to reduce the military budget as a whole in the face of more urgent threats. Most likely, the idea of ​​further expanding the nuclear arsenal will not find strong support.

Thirdly, our tight financial situation is unlikely to be a serious obstacle if we really needed to increase our nuclear arsenal. But in fact, not a single high-ranking officer, not a single high-ranking official has ever said that we need more long-range nuclear weapons. Some say that we need new weapons or weapons of a different type, but no one says that the 1,550 bombs and warheads that START III permits are not enough for our mission.

In short, it makes no sense to get involved in a new arms race – regardless of whether we can “win” it or not – if it can be prevented by taking just one simple step: extend START III. Billingsley and some other officials complain that Russia is not fulfilling the terms of many agreements. However, no one will seriously argue that Russia has violated START III, the most important treaty that limits the amount of nuclear weapons that Russia and the United States can use against each other.

START III also contains clauses that stipulate the conduct of mutual inspections, as well as bilateral forums to discuss alleged violations, that is, it allows each of the parties to monitor compliance by its other parties. If this agreement remains in the past, these points will remain in the same place. And we will return to the world that existed before the signing of the first strategic arms agreements in 1972. Until that moment, the armed forces of both countries were preparing for the development of the situation according to the “worst case scenario” and, justifying themselves by this, were building up their arsenals. Arms control agreements make it possible to establish a framework for pessimistic intelligence forecasts of both countries – and, accordingly, a framework for the insatiable appetites of hawks.

The Open Skies Treaty is not as vital as START III, but it is very useful, and renouncing it makes no sense. This treaty, signed in 1992 by the United States, Russia and 32 other countries – including 27 of the 30 NATO countries – allows participating countries to conduct observation flights over foreign territories in order to monitor the actions of the armed forces.

Since the entry into force of this treaty in 2002, participating countries have completed more than 800 such flights. Ukraine has used this treaty several times to monitor the movements of Russian troops along its eastern border. Several times Russia refused to give Ukraine permission to perform such flights, and the Americans allowed the Ukrainians to join American missions, which Russia did not block.

The purpose of this treaty, the idea of ​​which was first put forward by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 (then the Soviet Union rejected this idea), is to create an atmosphere of trust between countries, and this goal has been achieved.

Critics say Russia used the Open Skies Treaty to take photos of key US infrastructure facilities from the air that it could later launch cyber attacks on. But this argument is completely unconvincing. Firstly, in accordance with the Open Skies Treaty, countries can take pictures of whatever they like, but they must share the data with other parties to the contract (and the Russians did). Secondly, if the Russians wanted to receive photographs of key objects of American infrastructure, they could easily do this through commercial satellites.

Finally, although in fact the United States does not need an Open Skies Treaty to collect intelligence because we have many high-class satellites, our European allies continue to use this treaty to fly around, and they are not ready to leave it.

In fact, senior US military officers also like this treaty. In October, when there were reports that Trump could sign a memorandum saying that it was necessary to withdraw from this treaty, the US Strategic Command, which carries out these flights (and controls the nuclear arsenal), tweeted that it “supports the Treaty in the open sky, which allows peaceful, unarmed flights to be performed over more than 30 participating countries to monitor the armed forces and their operations. It helps build trust and increase transparency.”

In fact, few people called for the cancellation of the Open Skies Treaty until the moment when John Bolton became Trump’s national security adviser. Bolton has long been known as a man who fundamentally opposes any international agreements – and even against international law. One of his assistants, Tim Morrison, was the only official who insisted on the United States withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, and he continued to insist on this even after Bolton resigned. It was Morrison who composed the above memorandum to Trump. Morrison, who is now an analyst at the conservative Hudson Institute, wrote an article published May 21 in the New York Times, in which he advocated a decision to withdraw from the treaty, but forgot to mention.

Morrison worked on the team of Senator John Kyl, who in 2010 forced President Barack Obama to agree to tens of billions of dollars in nuclear costs, promising him support for START III in Congress – and then voted against of this contract. Once I asked one former assistant Keel (not Morrison) to explain how this could happen. That assistant answered: “He just doesn’t like the idea of ​​arms control.”

Billingsley, Trump’s new arms control spokesman for a new arms race, is of the same type of people. He once worked as an assistant to Jesse Helms, who, as the leading Republican (and for some time even the chairman) of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, opposed all arms control agreements considered in Congress over the past two decades of the 20th century.

In short, we are now being dragged into the unnecessary arms race by the very ideologists of the Cold War who still occupy influential positions, and the president, who also does not like multilateral agreements, as well as cabinet ministers who are characterized by a lack of principles and a willingness to fulfill any whims boss, they are on the occasion. (A memo on the need to withdraw their Open Skies Treaty was on Trump’s table without prior consideration by the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or any other body.)

But there is good news. This year’s defense budget requires Trump to notify the U.S. Congress of withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty in 120 days. If Trump withdraws from the treaty earlier, then the chairmen of the relevant committees in Congress will be able to declare his actions illegal. Thus, if a new US president takes office in January, he will be able to resume overflights as if nothing had happened.

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