Foreign Policy

Russian Cheating a Reason to Let New START Lapse

Time to drop the pretense that arms-control treaties are of any use in securing this country.

Harold Hutchison · Jun. 18, 2019

Last year, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty, largely due to Russian cheating. It was obvious that unilateral adherence to the treaty was greatly harming America. Nothing good ever comes when one side keeps adhering to rules that the other side constantly breaks.

Now, according to The Washington Times, Russia is at it again, this time conducting nuclear tests forbidden by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (or CTBT). This places America at a big disadvantage. With Russia’s development of new inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), it’s safe to assume Moscow is also developing new warheads. Nuclear testing gives the Russians a good idea of just how well those warheads work.

Meanwhile, the United States, as it makes plans to develop new nuclear weapons (a great deal of congressional foot-dragging is holding that back), will, if it chooses to abide by the CTBT, rely on simulations to determine how well these new weapons work. In other words, should it come to an eyeball-to-eyeball situation, the Russians would have a bit more certainty about how well its nuclear weapons worked. That, of course, reduces the effectiveness of America’s strategic deterrent.

It’s not like sticking with New START wasn’t already a sucker’s bet. The United States also has had a history of letting itself be suckered with unilateral adherence to arms-control treaties. The case that should have particular poignancy as we have celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the 77th anniversary of the Battle of Midway is that of the naval arms-limitation treaties of the 1920s and 1930s.

In those treaties, there were limits, particularly on the tonnage of naval vessels like cruisers (no more than 10,000 tons on a hull) and battleships (no more than 35,000 tons). Well, according to, Japan’s heavy cruisers routinely violated the 10,000-ton cap, with the Mogami-class the most blatant, being considered “egregious.” Both Germany and Japan blew past the caps on the largest allowable battleships. Japan also militarized and fortified bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands in violation of those treaties. America, of course, did not militarize bases like Guam and Wake Island, and both fell in the first month of American involvement in World War II. The Allies paid dearly and deeply in both blood and lost military assets for their unilateral adherence to those treaties.

Unilateral compliance with limitations on battleships and cruisers plus the de-militarization of Guam and Wake arguably cost thousands of lives. There was the potential for it to cost even more, had it not been for America mobilizing its vast industrial base during World War II.

The stakes are even higher today with nuclear weapons in the mix. One nuclear weapon detonating in the middle of Los Angeles would instantaneously kill hundreds of thousands. Set it off in San Diego, and you not only get the high body count, you wipe out a large chunk of the Pacific Fleet as well.

It’s well past time for the United States to drop the pretense that arms-control treaties are of any use in securing this country. If anything, our unilateral adherence to such puts us at grave risk.

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