On Arms Control, Little Reason for Optimism

May 18, 2020

Defense One

President Trump’s newly named envoy for arms control, Marshall Billingslea, gave a lengthy interview last week on the administration’s approach to nuclear arms negotiations. He stressed bringing in China, struck a pessimistic note about the sole treaty constraining Russian and U.S. nuclear forces, and offered no ideas for getting Moscow to discuss non-strategic nuclear arms.

Unfortunately, the interview reinforces the view that the Trump administration is unlikely to achieve a nuclear deal…or even develop a serious proposal.

Since late 2018, Mr. Trump has called for a trilateral nuclear negotiation involving Russia, China and the United States. Mr. Billingslea emphasized the need to get China in the game, terming the failure to include it a main flaw of the 2010 U.S.-Russia New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START.

Involving China in nuclear arms talks is a laudable ambition. The problem: Beijing has repeatedly stated that it will not take part. Chinese officials point out the large disparity in numbers compared to the nuclear superpowers. The United States maintains about 3800 nuclear warheads in its active stockpile, while Russia has some 4300; China has just over 300.

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