President Donald Trump's notorious warmonger of a national security adviser, John Bolton, reportedly "is pushing for the U.S. to withdraw from a Cold War-era arms control treaty with Russia," a move that critics denounced as a "stupid and reckless" mistake that would fuel nuclear weapons production, alienate allies, and increase the threat of conflict.
"Withdrawing from INF treaty would be a boon to Moscow and (further) alienate allies. Russia's violation of the treaty merits a strong response. But withdrawal would be stupid and reckless."
—Kingston Reif, Arms Control Association
Despite resistance within the administration and from key allies abroad, Bolton wants the United States to bail on the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) on the grounds that Russia is violating the agreement, sources briefed on the effort told the Guardian.
While experts warn that "walking out on the INF is premature before any detailed negotiations between U.S. and Russian specialists on resolving the row over compliance," according to the Guardian, Bolton and Tim Morrison, another hardliner he's brought to the Trump White House, "have taken the lead on arms control issues away from the State Department" and are pushing for the withdrawal.
As the newspaper outlined:
Former U.S. officials say Bolton is blocking talks on extending the 2010 New Start treaty with Russia limiting deployed strategic nuclear warheads and their delivery systems. The treaty is due to expire in 2021 and Moscow has signaled its interest in an extension, but Bolton is opposing the resumption of a strategic stability dialogue to discuss the future of arms control between the two countries.
The U.S. has briefed its European allies this week about the proposal, sounding out reactions. The briefing alarmed U.K. officials who see the INF as an important arms control pillar. The treaty marked the end of a dangerous nuclear standoff in 1980s Europe pitting U.S. Pershing and cruise missiles against the Soviet Union's SS-20 medium-range missiles.
The U.S. alleges Russia is now violating the treaty with the development and deployment of a ground-launched cruise missile, known as the 9M729. Moscow insists the missile does not violate the range restrictions in the INF and alleges in return that a U.S. missile defense system deployed in eastern Europe against a potential Iranian threat can be adapted to fire medium-range offensive missiles at Russia.
Ian Kearns, a board member of the European Leadership Network, called the Guardian report "a really important piece" that "shows how John Bolton, Trump's disaster of a national security adviser, is trying to destroy nuclear stability between the U.S. and Russia."
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While serving in the Reagan and both Bush administrations—including as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations—Bolton fostered a reputation as, in the words of Juan Cole, "a war criminal with terrorist ties" as well as an opponent of arms control treaties. Mere rumors of his appointment by Trump led to warnings of "a civilization-threatening disaster," which have only persisted since he joined the current administration, as he has repeatedly attacked global cooperation in favor of U.S. dominance.
"Bolton gonna Bolton," remarked Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association. "Withdrawing from INF treaty would be a boon to Moscow and (further) alienate allies. Russia's violation of the treaty merits a strong response. But withdrawal would be stupid and reckless."
"The Russian violation of INF is serious, but U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would be a terrible mistake and yet another indication to our allies that we don't care about their security."
—Alexandra Bell, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, explained to the Guardian that withdrawing from the treaty would "open the door for Russia to expand its small and relatively insubstantial ground-launched missile arsenal."
"The Russian violation must be taken seriously, but the Trump [administration] has not exhausted all diplomatic options to compel Russia to return to compliance," tweeted the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. "Without the INF treaty, the new arms race would only get worse."
While noting that "there has been no formal Trump decision yet," Hans Kristensen, the director of the nuclear information project at the Federation of the American Scientists, also concluded, "Very little good will come of this, other than another round of nuclear escalation with Russia."
Alexandra Bell, a former senior arms control official at the State Department who is now at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, observed, "You should be able to get somewhere with the Russians, but Bolton doesn't seem interested."
Emphasizing on Twitter that a withdrawal would be a "terrible mistake and yet another indication to our allies that we don't care about their security," Bell challenged Trump, a self-proclaimed "master negotiator," to fix rather than ditch the treaty:
The Russian violation of INF is serious, but U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would be a terrible mistake & yet another indication to our allies that we don't care about their security. Trumps says he's a master negotiator. He can prove it by fixing INF. https://t.co/Bg87i8ZhrN
— Alexandra Bell (@atomicbell) October 19, 2018