New START and the Helsinki Summit

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Jon Wolfsthal makes the case that the Helsinki summit is the right time to begin talks with Russia on extending New START:

The July 16 summit in Helsinki between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin presents a unique opportunity to reverse the dangerous nuclear competition between the United States and Russia and should be welcomed, despite its inherent risks. The opportunity to stabilize U.S.-Russian nuclear relations by extending New START, a key nuclear treaty that is set to expire in 2021, is paramount and worth the issues that come with any meeting between Trump and Putin.

Extending New START is in the best interests of both countries. The treaty is a continuation of the first strategic arms reduction treaty negotiated between the U.S. and USSR, and it was ratified in late 2010. It places important limits on the arsenals the world’s two largest nuclear weapons states, and its verification measures ensure a degree of stability and certainty in our relationship with Moscow. Allowing the treaty to lapse without a replacement would be a major error that could lead to a new arms race and further deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations. Extending the treaty is particularly important now that relations with Russia have reached one of their lowest points in decades. There is no good reason to let the treaty expire. As Wolfsthal notes, both the U.S. and Russia are in compliance with the treaty’s requirements. The treaty has done exactly what it was designed to do. It is in the national security interests of both states to make sure that the treaty remains in force.

Unfortunately, the president and his National Security Advisor have both expressed opposition to New START in the past. Trump has reportedly described it as a “bad deal,” and Bolton has repeatedly denounced it and gone so far as to call it “execrable.” For the president, New START is a product of the Obama administration and therefore something he probably wants to undo just because Obama was for it. Bolton loathes all arms control agreements, and he seems to despise this one more than most. If Bolton were to have his way on this, it would be very bad for U.S. interests and U.S.-Russian relations. On the other hand, if Trump really wants to improve relations with Moscow while still acting in the best interests of the U.S. he could ignore Bolton and support extending the treaty.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.