Michael KreponPutin Votes for Trump

Quotes of the week:

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…when first we practice to deceive.”
― Walter Scott, Marmion

““Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
The Wizard of Oz

Vladimir Putin has joined tens of millions of Americans in voting early. He and Donald Trump would like to play “Let’s Make A Deal” before the November 3rd election. They have a still somewhat hazy agreement to extend New START for one year in return for a freeze on warhead totals. Moscow has accepted this deal in principle, but without additional conditions. This would seem to mean that caps on warheads would be without intrinsic and intrusive verification measures, to be negotiated later, if at all, after much haggling.

Given Putin’s need to help Trump and given Trump’s need to look like a winner despite the wreckage of his administration, I wouldn’t be surprised if their helpers found common guidelines to instruct those who will be tasked to follow up.

I think the guidelines we already know qualify for derision and require improvement, but before the brickbats, allow me to offer rare praise.

We’ve always known that far-reaching successes in arms control require an ability to monitor warhead production, refurbishment, and dismantlement. The crafters of Trump’s proposal have prodded us to get more serious about this.

Coming up with monitoring provisions and procedures for warhead counts will be harder than the novel arrangements arrived at to monitor missile production for the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. It will also require reviving the U.S. inspection corps and something like the old On-Site Inspection Agency, but that is relatively a simple matter. Securing confidence in baseline warhead totals and changes to those totals will require levels of intrusion that have previously been well beyond our reach – but not our ingenuity, if the Kremlin is willing to go there.

If the Kremlin isn’t willing to go there, then declarations will be suspect because we all know that Putin can’t be trusted. Vague agreements in principle will only be helpful if they lead to arrangements that provide confidence in compliance, and we are nowhere near this outcome.

Which brings me to the significant weaknesses of the Trump-Putin outline of a deal.

First, the timeline of a one-year extension of New START is an invitation to end New START far before its useful lifespan. New START’s intrusive monitoring will be needed as a springboard for something better that eventually includes warhead monitoring. Getting rid of the remaining constraints on strategic offensive forces has always been a goal of treaty opponents. They couldn’t announce Trump’s fifth withdrawal from an arms control agreement, so they have aimed for the next best/worst outcome: a New START exit in one year.

This makes no sense on any grounds other than ideological opposition to arms control. It took a year and a half to negotiate New START, and this was done at warp speed for nuclear negotiations. It could take as long to negotiate modest reductions from New START totals, assuming this is possible. It will take far longer to devise and negotiate monitoring provisions for warhead counts.

Negotiating under a time deadline is almost always a bad idea. It can lead to missteps and provisions that come back to haunt. New START can be extended for five years without the Senate’s advice and consent. Not to extend for a full five years would be a mistake. To extend New START for just one year would be a grave mistake.

Another failing of the provisional Trump-Putin deal is that it is silent about reductions. Those who have the greatest aversion to arms control, including those around Trump who crafted this deal, would like to change the subject from reductions to warheads. They have already succeeded in diverting us, like hounds on a scent. We need to keep our eyes on the prize, and the prize is deeper reductions as well as broader scope.

We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can pursue further reductions in U.S. and Russian forces levels while devising new monitoring procedures for warhead counts. Bringing China into these equations requires proceeding on both fronts.

Lastly, agreements in principle are only as valuable as nailing down intrusive monitoring. The devil is in the details, as Paul Nitze would often say. The details will take time – far more time than one year. Trump can’t be trusted to hold Putin’s feet to the fire on anything. He is disinterested in substance and detail. Nuclear arms control requires better U.S. leadership.


  1. AEL (History)

    So, are you saying that the current offered deal: one year extension plus gentlemen’s agreement for a total nuke cap, should be accepted, or rejected by the USA? If rejected, then what, if any, counter-proposal would you make (given the tyranny of the calendar).

    • Michael Krepon (History)

      I’m saying let’s wait to see the outcome of the US presidential election. There’s no need to take the poison pill of a one year extension when something far better could be in the offing. There’s no need to act as if we’re starving and begging for scraps of bread.

      If Trump is re-elected, I have no expectation that he will pay attention to details, like the monitoring provisions needed for warhead counts. His re-election would result in an early grave for New START, and early graves for many more U.S. citizens.

      Biden would do far better on monitoring, reductions, and New START’s extension. Let’s see what happens on November 3rd.

  2. OG (History)

    What a pity to see this sensible site marred by obvious partisanship and useless bias.
    You’re here to inform objectively, not to give your 2-cents preferences or resort to the usual CNN’s Putin bashing…

    • Alan Tomlinson (History)

      • Must not feed stupid troll.•

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