President Donald Trump has been better known for tearing up multilateral deals than creating them. But he has ambitious plans to negotiate a massive nuclear arms control agreement with Russia and China. The deal would upgrade and expand the existing New START Treaty with Russia, which is slated to expire in 2021 absent renewal talks.
“The President has made clear that he thinks that arms control should include Russia and China and should include all the weapons, all the warheads, all the missiles,” said one senior White House official.
Such a deal would certainly be ambitious, and if successful, likely a defining cornerstone of Trump’s foreign policy legacy. But according to CNN, multiple experts are worried that Trump is slow-walking the negotiation process, and that if he rushes into an attempt to control “all the missiles” without a clear grasp of what he’s doing, he could end up with nothing, and in fact put the United States in a worse position.
Some even worry that Trump is deliberately setting his target too high as a pretext for walking away with no arms control deal at all, letting the United States (and its geopolitical opponents) proliferate weapons as much as they want. Alexandra Bell, the senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, put it bluntly: “The only reason you bring up China is if you have no intention of extending the New START Treaty.”
Lynn Rusten of the Nuclear Threat Initiative fears Trump is taking the talks too close to the expiration deadline of New START. “An overly ambitious approach will be unnecessarily risky,” she said. “You can have the belt and suspenders, and start to lay the groundwork for a more ambitious agreement. But I don’t think getting rid of the belt and suspenders enhances chances of getting the more ambitious agreement.”