New START and the China Diversion

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

New START has a little over seven months left to live, and the Trump administration remains fixated on its impossible and bizarre condition of bringing China into the treaty:

The Trump administration is increasingly set on trying to bring China into a key nuclear arms deal with Russia, according to documents obtained by Foreign Policy, amid fears by arms control experts that the effort is futile and the United States is running out of time to recommit to the Obama-era New START treaty.

The effort to bring China into an arms reduction treaty certainly is futile. Not only is China not going to participate in arms control negotiations with the U.S. anytime soon, but even if China were persuaded to participate the limits set by New START would allow China to increase its nuclear arsenal many times over while still remaining in compliance. It makes no sense to press another government to join an arms reduction treaty when that government currently possesses a fraction of the number of weapons that the treaty permits. There is no compelling reason to add China to an existing arms control agreement when their nuclear forces are much smaller than ours. One might as well insist that Pakistan or Israel joins the treaty. It is obvious that the administration has never been serious about extending New START. Talk of bringing in China has been a diversion from the real issue and a weak excuse to let the treaty expire. U.S.-China relations are extremely poor right now, so it’s not as if negotiations on this or any other issue would be productive in any case. As a general rule, arms control agreements are reached during periods when both governments are trying to cooperate with each other because they desire to reduce tensions. It is safe to say that there is no appetite for détente in either capital at the moment. Even if there were a good reason to pursue negotiations with China on arms control, this is probably the least propitious time imaginable.

Hawks continue to feign interest in a larger treaty because this is what they always do when they want to kill an existing agreement. As always, they claim that they just need to put more pressure on the other government and this will get them to cooperate:

Current and former Trump administration officials also reject the charge that they proposed trilateral arms negotiations simply to sink the deal, and insist Beijing could be pushed to the negotiating table with the right amount of pressure.

“The only thing that really makes this particularly worthwhile is bringing China to the table,” said Tim Morrison, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former top National Security Council official on Europe and arms control under Trump. “China is the greatest threat to American security, our way of life, in the world. Russia is a third-world dictatorship, they are a mafia-run gas station with nuclear weapons,” he added.

China isn’t going to be “pushed” to negotiate a non-starter of an agreement in which it has nothing to gain. This should be elementary even for the thickest hard-liners. Whatever threat China may pose to the U.S., its nuclear arsenal is not the main problem that we need to be concerned about. When discussing arms control, the state that has the much larger nuclear arsenal is the priority. Focusing on China as the main threat while dismissing Russia as a “gas station” is idiotic. Nuclear weapons are one of the few remaining reasons to take Russia seriously as a great power, so we don’t get to blow that off when we are talking about a treaty that limits how many of those weapons they can possess and deploy.

The Trump administration can’t even compel Iran or North Korea to make concessions despite years of punitive measures, so why does anyone think that China would be more accommodating? Even if the treaty-killers weren’t acting in such obvious bad faith, there simply isn’t time for any of this. New START will be dead in February 2021, and there will be nothing else left to limit the size or deployment of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. Floating pie-in-the-sky ideas about including China in an imaginary treaty that will never exist is nothing more than a delaying tactic so that the clock runs out on arms control.

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.

10 thoughts on “New START and the China Diversion”

  1. … Well, the article is fair. There is no immediately compelling reason to include China in a new START treaty.

    China is a non-threat; even as scare mongering reminiscent of Japan Inc. in the 1980s begins in fever. Sinophobes are useful idiots who forget, trade between the U.S. and China will always happen.

    One word: Nationalization. China can never own more of America or any other country than that country allows. Unlike Japan or any other Western/Westernized country, its not awkward at all for the U.S. to nationalize Chinese holdings in the U.S.. It just invites retaliation in kind…

    Since trade between the U.S. and China will always happen, its only a matter of who makes the money; middlemen based in other countries who can skirt tariff barriers, or, American (and Chinese) consumers and producers going direct to each-other’s market.

    That said, it would be nice to have China on-board in an arms treaty.

    Not having China bound by an arms treaty is a strategic oversight that could become a gaping hole should China’s future leadership feel Xi was too soft with the West and proceed with an arms buildup, as opposed to the catch-up happening now.

    A new START would have to include hypersonics and space weapons, areas China has been making advances in alongside Russia.

  2. Arms treaty to America is arms surrender to Russia and to China. If they haven’t leaned by this time,it is because they are like rest of the world have been hypnotized with words with gimmick with glitter . But other countries have waken up because these two countries posed constraints on America.
    There is only one thing for China or for Russia to take from the US side of the bargain – walk away from it.

  3. China told us ,only a few years ago ,they have not forgotten or forgiven what happened to them in Yugoslavia . This is where we sent a missile into the Chinese embassy accidently on purpose . Bill Clinton said it was a accident . George Tenet , admitted to congress ,he picked the Chinese embassy as a target .making the bombing of the Embassy a crime . Why would China be whiling to sign treaties with lying criminals ., China and Russia after seeing what NATO did to Yugoslavia decided to become permanent defense partners .

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