(Washington, DC)—According to an exclusive Reuters story published this afternoon, President Donald Trump denounced the landmark 2010 New START agreement in his first telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reuters also reported that when Putin raised the option of extending New START, Mr. Trump had to ask his aides what the treaty was.
The 2010 New START agreement has advanced U.S. and global interests by lowering and capping the two nation’s excessive strategic deployed nuclear arsenals, both of which remained poised on launch-under-attack alert status, meaning that thousands of nuclear weapons could be launched by the U.S. and Russian leaders within minutes of the go order.
The most important responsibility of any American president is to reduce nuclear dangers and to avoid nuclear catastrophe. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump appears to be clueless about the value of this key nuclear risk reduction treaty and the unique dangers of nuclear weapons.
A wide-range of U.S. national security leaders, as well as U.S. military officials, continue to assess that New START remains squarely in the U.S. national interest and that terminating or withdrawing from the agreement would undermine U.S. security. Ending New START would irresponsibly free Russia of any limits on its strategic nuclear arsenal and terminate the inspections that provide us with significant additional transparency about Russian strategic nuclear forces.
It has been longstanding U.S. policy to seek to further reduce the role and number of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy. The five most recent U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, negotiated agreements with Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles. During his confirmation hearing last month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed his support for New START and continued engagement with Russia and other nuclear-armed countries on seeking further verifiable reductions of nuclear weapons stockpiles.
Trump and his team must get smart about New START and the unique dangers of nuclear weapons. Before the end of his term in office, Trump will need to decide whether to invite Russia to extend New START for another five years and/or negotiate a new arms reduction treaty.
The United States and Russia should work together to build down, not build up. With up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons allowed under the 2010 New START agreement and no limits on the tactical nuclear weapons possessed by each side, Russia and the United States have far more weapons than is necessary to deter nuclear attack by the other or by another nuclear-armed country.
Further nuclear reductions would also save both countries tens of billions of dollars in their ongoing programs to replace their current arsenals and would strengthen global nonproliferation and nuclear risk reduction efforts.
In 2013, President Barack Obama, with input from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other elements of the national security establishment, determined that the United States can reduce its nuclear force by another one-third below New START levels and still meet deterrence requirements.
As President Obama said in his last news conference Jan. 18 “… there remains a lot of room for both countries to reduce our nuclear stockpiles.”