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John J. Bastiat / February 10, 2021

An Unfortunate START

Biden’s foreign policy is already more akin to “Russian collusion” than he’d care to admit.

The Biden administration is demonstrating typical Democrat prowess — that is, incompetence — in national security. A prime example is the rush to re-up the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) for another five years without so much as a hint of statesmanship coloring the knee-jerk move.

Now, START isn’t entirely worthless. For instance, the treaty sets constraints on the numbers and types of nuclear warheads and missiles the U.S. and Russia can possess, limiting the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs at 1,550, and placing caps on deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear bombers. The treaty also helps both sides better understand each other’s intentions and nuclear postures, through onsite inspections and information sharing related to nuclear forces. Further, each country has assessed the other to be in compliance with START’s terms since its inception in 2011. So the treaty isn’t without at least some merit on Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” standard.

But the present problem doesn’t concern the merits of START, per se. Rather, the issue is how quickly and readily the Biden administration gave away the store, as far as potential negotiations were concerned. The move also lends a whole new context to the phrase “Russian collusion.” Notably, in a recent joint announcement Congressmen Michael McCaul and Mike Rogers called out the rash act, bluntly stating:

It’s frustrating the Biden Administration is wasting an opportunity to negotiate a stronger version of New START that includes non-strategic nuclear weapons, new weapon systems not covered by the original treaty, and a stronger verification regime. A clean five-year extension gives [Vladimir] Putin exactly what he asked for and causes the U.S. to lose critical leverage to bring Russia back to the negotiating table. … Regardless, the U.S. must maintain and modernize our nuclear deterrent and also must begin the process to address the People’s Republic of China growing nuclear stockpiles.

These two representatives might know a bit about the issue, as the respective lead Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs and House Armed Services committees. Their point: By rubber-stamping Russia’s approval of the term extension to START, the U.S. has squandered a key opportunity to negotiate for constraints on other weapons and, possibly, to pull China into START negotiations. The U.S. and Russia have roughly 6,000 warheads each, while China is estimated to have only a little over 300. But these numbers are misleading. Beijing is playing catch-up very seriously and poses an unchecked nuclear escalation threat, which means both Russia and the U.S. have a vested interest in addressing China’s nuclear aspirations.

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton among others had called for short-term treaty extensions, which would have still kept the pressure on to address issues like tactical nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles. But with no pressure on either China or Russia to negotiate a nuclear armament deal, the likelihood of slowing or stopping the ChiComs’ nuclear ambitions or warhead production is nil.

In an attempt to counter the joint statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that extending START makes the U.S., its allies and partners, and the world all safer. He added, “Unconstrained nuclear competition would endanger us all.” While these points may both be true, apparently lost on Secretary Blinken is the more salient point that a better START could have made the world even safer. All it would have taken was a team of competent negotiators and the ability to show Russia and perhaps China why modifying START would have been in their better interests.

Bottom line: Russia and China: 1; America: Zero.

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