WASHINGTON — Experts Thursday called the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and uncertainty about the future of another treaty with Russia — New START — an indication that the administration is not fully committed to arms control policies.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in early February that the U.S. intends to withdraw from the treaty in six months after last year accusing Russia of being in violation of the 1988 INF Treaty, which required both countries to eliminate land-based short and medium range missiles.
Russia is in violation not only of the INF Treaty, but of nine other arms control treaties, former National Security Council Staff Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control Franklin Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He said that, because of Russian transgressions, the treaty was effectively dead, but that the sudden U.S. withdrawal initiated by the State Department was a mistake.
Madelyn Creedon, a former principal deputy administrator in the National Nuclear Security Administration during the Obama administration, said that withdrawing is a missed opportunity for further arms control discussions with Russia and that any withdrawal should have been discussed with U.S. allies first.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said withdrawing from the INF Treaty could endanger the future of the New START — Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — agreement, which commits the U.S. and Russia to a strategic nuclear arms reduction. The treaty is in effect through February 2021, but includes an option to extend it through 2026.
According to Creedon and Miller, there is no indication that Russia is in violation of New START and the treaty is fulfilling its intended purpose.
They emphasized the need to extend it before its 2021 expiration. “Effectively enforced arms control treaties strengthen our national security,” Miller said.
However, Miller said that he sees no real sign of commitment to the arms control process from the Trump administration. In addition to abandoning the INF Treaty, President Donald Trump in 2017 attacked New START — which was negotiated by the Obama administration — as a bad deal that he said favors Russia.
In addition to their support for New START, the experts pushed for more comprehensive arms control agreements that would address nonstrategic or tactical nuclear weapons.
“This is a treaty that is extraordinarily important to both the U.S. and to Russia and both sides are in compliance and it really should be extended,” Creedon said. “When that extension happens, then there is time to have the discussions which we must have about the non-strategic systems.”
The committee’s emphasis on arms control comes amid heightening global nuclear tensions. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned earlier this month that the country would target the U.S. with hypersonic weapons if the U.S. deploys new intermediate-range missiles in Europe
Miller described tensions at the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir as “the most dangerous situation in the world” with a potential for nuclear war. Both countries, Creedon said, are increasing the strength of their nuclear arsenals.
And on Thursday, talks between the U.S. and North Korea ended abruptly after the rogue state refused to commit to denuclearizing.
Those tensions, senators said, only increase the importance of U.S. arms control deals.
“We have a strategic and a moral responsibility to do everything in our power to prevent another nuclear arms race, and this means common sense arms control,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, said.