Michael KreponThe Scam of Sacrificing New START for Visionary Goals

Lyric of the week:

Had to find some higher ground
Had some fear to get around
You can’t say what you don’t know
Later on won’t work no more…

Square one, my slate is clear
Rest your head on me my dear
It took a world of trouble, it took a world of tears
It took a long time to get back here

–Tom Petty, “Square One”

Verifiably counting every Russian warhead is a worthwhile goal. Counting every Russian tactical nuclear warhead is a worthwhile goal. Counting every Chinese warhead is also a worthwhile goal.

Conditioning the future of New START to progress on achieving these worthy goals is a scam. New START is the only vehicle at present to count and verify Russian warheads on land- and sea-based, ocean-spanning missiles. It’s also the vehicle to do better.

Conditioning the extension of New START to progress in achieving worthwhile goals is a scam because a serious effort would not sacrifice something useful for something that is out of reach.

It’s a scam because the Trump administration has no apparent interest in success, and no apparent skills to achieve progress if it did have an interest.

It’s a scam because the Trump administration substitutes tweets for diplomacy.

It’s a scam because Team Trump chose to pursue the most ambitious negotiating objective since the Baruch Plan at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are toxic and U.S.-Chinese relations are in the dumpster.

It’s scam because Trump has agreed to place this most ambitious negotiating objective since 1946 in the hands of Marshall Billingslea, who uses miniature Chinese flags for props to underscore that Beijing is a no show and gets the Chinese flag wrong.

It’s a scam because Team Trump has purposefully dithered for three and a half years on extending New START, only to come up with this grandiose gambit when there’s no time to demonstrate success, no conditions for success, no apparent interest in success, and no talent to succeed.

It’s a scam because it could take the better part of the five years available for New START’s extension to negotiate the new outlines and first steps toward more expansive and verifiable constraints on nuclear warheads – if political conditions between major powers improve.

And it’s an obvious scam because if Trump & Co. really wanted to lay the groundwork for successful outcomes, they would accept Putin’s offer to extend New START for a full five years. A short-duration extension while putting New START on a ventilator won’t provide incentives to reach a better deal. Instead, it invites Putin to re-introduce conditions for a better deal.

This isn’t diplomacy; it’s farce.

Take a look at the State Department’s website. See if you can find a fact sheet on what has been proposed and why. See if you can find a formal roll-out by the President, the National Security Adviser or the Secretary of State. None of this exists. The roll out, as best I could tell, consisted of hints by John Bolton in interviews with friendly journalists and talks before friendly audiences, a Senate Resolution by Tom Cotton, and an announcement of Billingslea’s appointment to divert us from Trump’s formal notice of withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty.

Team Trump is a sinking ship. John Bolton and Tim Morrison, the officers who used to be on board and who helped to conceive of this scam, have already left the ship. Marshall Billingslea, not Paul Nitze or James Baker, is at the helm. His definition of success is failure. Success is pulling the plug on New START.

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