Saturday, October 27, 2018

Trump plans to withdraw from INF treaty - nuclear winter approaches as Doomsday Clock ticks

Quiz: Which one of these does not belong to the rest?
A. Ronald Reagan
B. George Shultz
C. Donald Trump
D. Mikhail Gorbachev

You might have seized upon Gorbachev’s Russian ethnicity. You might have picked George Shultz because he was not a president. (He was Secretary of State under Reagan.) But these are all surface similarities. The correct answer is Donald Trump. Reagan, Shultz, and Gorbachev were titans of the Cold War and understood the nuclear threats it presented. As such they were able to negotiate arms control treaties that took us back from the brink of nuclear war. Trump? He’s done exactly the opposite. By his narrow minded self-interest, by his trashing of treaties and alliances, he has once more brought us to the brink.

Here are commentaries in the NY Times from both Russian and American perspectives, from Gorbachev and Shultz, on Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

Regan and Gorbachev signing
Signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear
Forces Treaty at the White House in 1987

From Russia

Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, predicts A New Nuclear Arms Race Has Begun. And why is that? President Trump says he plans to withdraw from a nonproliferation treaty that I signed with Ronald Reagan. It’s just the latest victim in the militarization of world affairs.

Over 30 years ago, President Ronald Reagan and I signed in Washington the United States-Soviet Treaty on the elimination of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles. For the first time in history, two classes of nuclear weapons were to be eliminated and destroyed.

This was a first step. It was followed in 1991 by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the Soviet Union signed with President George H.W. Bush, our agreement on radical cuts in tactical nuclear arms, and the New Start Treaty, signed by the presidents of Russia and the United States in 2010.

There are still too many nuclear weapons in the world, but the American and Russian arsenals are now a fraction of what they were during the Cold War. At the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference in 2015, Russia and the United States reported to the international community that 85 percent of those arsenals had been decommissioned and, for the most part, destroyed.

Today, this tremendous accomplishment, of which our two nations can be rightfully proud, is in jeopardy. President Trump announced last week the United States’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and his country’s intention to build up nuclear arms.

I am being asked whether I feel bitter watching the demise of what I worked so hard to achieve. But this is not a personal matter. Much more is at stake.

A new arms race has been announced. The I.N.F. Treaty is not the first victim of the militarization of world affairs. In 2002, the United States withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty; this year, from the Iran nuclear deal. Military expenditures have soared to astronomical levels and keep rising.

As a pretext for the withdrawal from the I.N.F. Treaty, the United States invoked Russia’s alleged violations of some of the treaty’s provisions. Russia has raised similar concerns regarding American compliance, at the same time proposing to discuss the issues at the negotiating table to find a mutually acceptable solution. But over the past few years, the United States has been avoiding such discussion. I think it is now clear why.

With enough political will, any problems of compliance with the existing treaties could be resolved. But as we have seen during the past two years, the president of the United States has a very different purpose in mind. It is to release the United States from any obligations, any constraints, and not just regarding nuclear missiles.

[On Trump’s watch] The United States has in effect taken the initiative in destroying the entire system of international treaties and accords that served as the underlying foundation for peace and security following World War II.

Yet I am convinced that those who hope to benefit from a global free-for-all are deeply mistaken. There will be no winner in a “war of all against all” — particularly if it ends in a nuclear war. And that is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. An unrelenting arms race, international tensions, hostility and universal mistrust will only increase the risk.

Is it too late to return to dialogue and negotiations? I don’t want to lose hope. I hope that Russia will take a firm but balanced stand. I hope that America’s allies will, upon sober reflection, refuse to be launchpads for new American missiles. I hope the United Nations, and particularly members of its Security Council, vested by the United Nations Charter with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, will take responsible action.

Faced with this dire threat to peace, we are not helpless. We must not resign, we must not surrender.

From America

George Shultz, Reagan’s Secretary of State, argues that [We Must Preserve This Nuclear Treaty]. This is the time to expand, not abandon, an important nuclear weapons agreement with Russia.

Nuclear weapons are a threat to the world. Any large-scale nuclear exchange would have globally catastrophic consequences. Conscious of this reality, President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, worked in the 1980s to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of them.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987, was a major step toward this goal, eliminating a large class of nuclear weapons that were viewed as particularly destabilizing. The treaty is still in force, although both the Obama and Trump administrations have said that Russia is in violation. Whatever the case, we need to preserve the agreement rather than abandon it, as President Trump has threatened to do.

Indeed, we should invite other countries to join the treaty and resist the temptation ourselves to develop new classes of these deadly weapons. The first step would be to convene a meeting between American and Russian experts to discuss possible violations of the treaty.

The treaty included many special features, not the least of which were provisions for extensive on-site inspections to verify that all prohibited missiles had been eliminated. Many doubted that such inspections would ever actually take place, but they did. By 1992, nearly 2,700 missiles had been destroyed. The inspection provisions expired in 2001, but the United States and Russia could agree to revive them to help resolve the worries about compliance.

Determined leaders like Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev could see the need to limit the threat of nuclear weapons, and they acted on it. In their first meeting, they agreed that a nuclear war could never be won and must never be fought. Today, we need leaders who understand the destructive power of nuclear weapons and are willing to work against them.

On Oct. 19, 2017, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said: “If you ask me whether nuclear disarmament is possible or not, I would say, yes, it is possible. Does Russia want universal nuclear disarmament or not? The answer is also yes — yes, Russia wants that and will work for it.”

The United States’ Nuclear Posture Review, published in February, includes this statement: “The United States remains committed to its efforts in support of the ultimate global elimination of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It has reduced the nuclear stockpile by over 85 percent since the height of the Cold War and deployed no new nuclear capabilities for over two decades.”

Recent rhetoric has undermined the meaning of these statements, but they are part of the record, and the United States and Russia should strive to live up to them.

Now is not the time to build larger arsenals of nuclear weapons. Now is the time to rid the world of this threat. Leaving the treaty would be a huge step backward. We should fix it, not kill it.

George Shultz is “a distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, was the secretary of state from 1982 to 1989 and secretary of labor, secretary of the Treasury and director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Nixon administration.”

Two minutes to midnight

Lest Trump’s threat to our national security does not arouse your insecurity, consider this January 2018 Bulletin from the Union of the Atomic Scientists.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board believes the perilous world security situation … would, in itself, justify moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

But there has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its long-standing leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict US actions—or understand when US pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surreal sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening.

Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight—the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.

The Science and Security Board hopes this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now: #rewindtheDoomsdayClock.

Among its many recommendations for actions to move the clock back, the Board advises a return to the negotiations about the INF treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev:

  • US and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty; to seek further reductions in nuclear arms; to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and to ensure that new tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons are not built and that existing tactical weapons are never used on the battlefield.

A retrospective disclaimer from your Scriber

No one would accuse Ronald Reagan or George Shultz of being a peacenik. Neither am I. I thought the Russian interference in our 2016 election was cause to take more strenuous action than Trump’s caving to Putin in Helsinki. But two nations can butt heads on one issue (cyber interference) and still cooperate on others (reduction of nuclear arms). True to form, President Trump has failed on both counts. He has not secured our democracy and its elections, and he seems about to reengage in a nuclear arms race. Trump is the epitome of the right wing X/Anti-X approach to governance and even foreign policy. For a given agency X (USA), pick a leader who is Anti-X. We must reverse that unfortunate choice and November 6, 2018, is a start. The nation cannot afford two more years of the Trumpocracy. From top to bottom of the ballot, vote “D”.

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