A threat to nu­clear arms con­trol

West Hawaii Today - - Opinion -

A quar­ter-cen­tury af­ter the end of the Cold War, the United States and Rus­sia still pos­sess thou­sands of nu­clear weapons. Even so, some ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and mem­bers of Congress are push­ing waste­ful and dan­ger­ous plans to ex­pand the num­bers and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of those weapons, threat­en­ing a web of arms con­trol agree­ments that have en­sured the sta­bil­ity of Rus­sian and Amer­i­can ar­se­nals that con­tain fully 90 per­cent of the world’s 15,000 nu­clear weapons.

Congress is con­sid­er­ing whether the U.S. should de­velop a new ground-launched cruise mis­sile and with­draw from the 1987 In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nu­clear Forces Treaty ban­ning mis­siles with a range of up to about 3,000 miles, which give lead­ers lit­tle time to re­act. Signed by Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev, the treaty ended a ma­jor threat to Europe.

The treaty worked well un­til Rus­sia’s pres­i­dent, Vladimir Putin, an­gry at Amer­ica’s de­ploy­ment of mis­sile de­fenses in Europe, de­clared in 2007 that it no longer served Rus­sia’s in­ter­ests and pro­ceeded over the next decade to de­velop a new cruise mis­sile. In 2014, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion said such a mis­sile was tested in vi­o­la­tion of the treaty, but failed to per­suade Moscow to come back into com­pli­ance. Ear­lier this year, the Pen­tagon said Rus­sia se­cretly de­ployed the mis­sile, an even more se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tion.

To match Rus­sia, some law­mak­ers have added fund­ing for such mis­siles to the de­fense bills now work­ing their way through Congress, even though Gen. Paul Selva, vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress re­cently that mis­siles on Amer­i­can air­craft and ships can counter the new Rus­sian weapons if needed. The House bill, ap­proved 34481 on July 14, also states that if the pres­i­dent finds Rus­sia in vi­o­la­tion of the treaty 15 months af­ter the de­fense bill be­comes law, the United States will no longer be bound by the treaty. The Se­nate has yet to act on its ver­sion of the bill.

The INF Treaty vi­o­la­tion is com­pli­cated by the 2016 elec­tion hack­ing and other ten­sions. But the United States and its NATO al­lies can re­spond to it with­out a costly and un­nec­es­sary new mis­sile that al­lies are likely to op­pose.

Fur­ther, a de­ci­sion by the U.S. to aban­don the treaty would de­stroy a pil­lar of arms con­trol, erode sup­port for other treaties and raise fur­ther doubts about Washington’s com­mit­ments, al­ready dam­aged by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­pu­di­a­tion of the Paris cli­mate ac­cord. The INF Treaty has a mech­a­nism for re­solv­ing dis­putes, and the U.S., backed by its al­lies, should pur­sue a so­lu­tion in that fo­rum.

The House and Se­nate bills also in­clude bil­lions of dol­lars as a down pay­ment on an ex­ces­sive pro­gram to mod­ern­ize other nu­clear weapons sys­tems, in­clud­ing bombers and sub­marines, that is ex­pected to cost $1 tril­lion over 30 years. Mean­while, some law­mak­ers want to cut funds for the in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion mon­i­tor­ing nu­clear test­ing, in a short­sighted at­tempt to weaken sup­port for a global test mora­to­rium, which has kept all na­tions but North Korea from test­ing since 1998.

This comes as the in­creas­ingly hawk­ish Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­duct­ing a review of nu­clear pol­icy, ex­pected to be fin­ished later this year, that of­fi­cials hint could re­verse Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ef­forts to shrink the num­ber and role of nu­clear weapons in se­cu­rity strat­egy.

Since set­ting off the nu­clear age, Amer­ica has been the ma­jor force be­hind the re­straints that ex­ist. If it aban­dons that role, there will be lit­tle to stop Rus­sia, China, In­dia, Pak­istan, Iran and North Korea from plow­ing ahead.

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