US capricious retreat and withdrawals from international treaties wobbles global arms control system

China Military Online
Chen Lufan
2020-06-29 17:05:09

The White House is seen in Washington D.C., the United States, on May 21, 2020. U.S. President Donald Trump said on that day the United States is withdrawing from the Treaty on Open Skies, the latest move to abandon a major international arms control agreement. (Photo by Ting Shen/Xinhua)
By Xiang Changhe

The recent disarmament talks between the US and Russia in Vienna, capital city of Austria, seemed to end without a satisfactory result as the two sides failed to reach any consensus on issues like extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which will expire in 2021. This came as no surprise given the Trump administration’s consistent attitude toward arms control.

Withdrawing from treaties at will, trying to involve China in everything, ignoring Europe, and going against Russia on all fronts...This is how the Trump administration has handled the arms control issue since it came in office, and this approach has wobbled the global arms control system and broken the already fragile strategic balance, to the dismay of the whole world.

After unilaterally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), the Trump administration recently announced to retreat from the Treaty on Open Skies too, and now it acted as if it was unwilling to extend the New START.  

The New START is the last remaining arms control treaty between the US and Russia today and the last brake of global arms control. The treaty, signed by Washington and Moscow in 2010, was intended to restrict their deployment of nuclear warheads and carrier vehicles. The treaty, which will expire in February 2021, may be extended for additional 5 years upon the consultations between the two countries. While Moscow has expressed its willingness to extend the validity term without setting any preconditions, Washington has given a cold shoulder to the proposal - the treaty is a remarkable achievement made by the Obama administration to reset the US-Russia relation, and discarding his predecessor’s diplomatic legacy has been Trump’s playbook.

To achieve that goal, trying to impose an option involving China is a handy trick for the US during the arms control negotiations. Since Moscow and Washington began the talks on the extension, the US side has more than once tried to bring China in, which originally has nothing to do with the treaty. During the recent meeting in Vienna, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall Billingslea has been racking his brains to manipulate the China topic.  

China has long made clear its stance - countries with the most massive nuclear arsenal shoulder special and primary responsibilities for nuclear disarmament. The US and Russia jointly account for over 90% of the global nuclear weaponry, while China, with a much smaller nuclear force that cannot be mentioned in the same breath, is by far not positioned to join the nuclear arms control negotiation. It is pointed out by the media that dragging China into the talksis like “an obese person forces a skinny person to lose weight together”, which doesn’t make any sense.

The attempt to involve China is just a trick by the US to find a scapegoat for fruitless talks. John Robert Bolton, a former US national security adviser, revealed in his explosive new book that the White House had no interest at all in renewing the New START.

Going forward, when the New START expires without a renewal, the US and Russia may begin a round of arms race that will affect the alliance between the US and European countries and seriously blow the existing international nuclear security system and global strategic stability. 

A recent article on the website of The Christian Science Monitor ( stated that Washington and Moscow would lose insight to each other’s military strength in the absence of any arms control measures, which will be a perilous situation, where the world may plunge back into the strategic chaos that prevailed in the early 1960s.

An arms race without a brake will be a tragedy for the human race.

(This article is originally published on and translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online.)


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