Every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy has sought to negotiate and has secured nuclear risk reduction and arms control agreements. As President Reagan put it: "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The extraordinary costs of nuclear arms races crowd out investments in domestic sources of national strength, like education and healthcare.
Efforts to curtail the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) began following World War I under the League of Nations with the 1925 Geneva Protocol, in which signatories agreed to prohibit the use of chemical and biological weapons during war. In 1970, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty entered into force, prohibiting non-nuclear-weapon-states from acquiring nuclear weapons and calling for the eventual disarmament of those countries already in possession of them. Today, South Sudan, India, Israel, and Pakistan are the only nations that have not signed on to the agreement, while North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003.
The United States established itself as a global leader on issues of WMD nonproliferation by engaging in nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War. These negotiations led to the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987 and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) in 1994. Both the INF and START I were landmark agreements, the first of their kind to eliminate an entire class of weapons, require a reduction in each country’s nuclear arsenal and a reduction in strategic weapons. These treaties are credited with helping to end the Cold War. Following the INF, the U.S. and the Soviet Union destroyed 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles. These gains were reinforced by the terms set forth under START I, in which both nations agreed to large restrictions on their deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and accountable warheads.
The U.S. renewed its commitment to nuclear nonproliferation in 2010 when President Obama signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. Under the terms of the new agreement, both nations agreed to cap deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs at 1,550, an approximate 74-percent reduction from the limit allowed by START I. The progress of these agreements’ quantitative outcomes were essential steps in stabilizing U.S.-Soviet political relations. The inspections regime to verify compliance with the New START provides intelligence that would otherwise be unattainable.
Together with the international community, the U.S. also created and supports a network of organizations for nuclear, chemical, and biological nonproliferation and arms control programs, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Biological Weapons Convention International Support Unit, and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization.
As outlined above, pursuing nonproliferation of WMD has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy for nearly a century. American leadership on these challenges has been consistent across parties and administrations, fostering otherwise unlikely security for the global community. Under the Trump Administration however, the nation’s commitment to these issues has been called into question, with international peace and stability now caught in the balance.
President Trump’s hawkish attitude toward nuclear policy was established before he even entered office when, in December 2016, he tweeted that the United States, “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released in early 2018, realized then-candidate Trump’s nuclear ambitions, calling for the development of a more usable, “low-yield” nuclear weapon and lowering the threshold in which the use of a nuclear weapon would be considered. Further, the administration’s FY 2019 Defense Budget proposed a $50 million cut to the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, including a $6 million drop in funding to the Global Material Security program and a $19 million reduction in nonproliferation research and development.
The Trump administration has continued to undermine years of international progress toward a more stable nuclear peace. This is best seen in President Trump’s formal withdrawal from the INF Treaty in August 2019 and in his administration’s ongoing failure to conduct extension negotiations for New START ahead of its 2021 expiration. As highlighted by the Arms Control Association, the threat posed by these abdications of leadership is significant: “Without the INF Treaty or New START, there would be no legally binding, verifiable limits on U.S. or Russian nuclear arsenals for the first time since 1972.” If nuclear tension is allowed to build, free from bilateral restrictions, the two powers risk the willing slide toward a renewed arms race.
These actions, viewed alongside the administration’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal and its haphazard approach toward negotiations with North Korea, serve only to erode global nuclear security. This threat is not lost on America’s allies. Ahead of President Trump’s INF suspension decision, for example, the European Union released a statement outlining its position:
“While we expect the Russian Federation to address serious concerns regarding its compliance with the INF Treaty in a substantial and transparent way, we also expect the United States to consider the consequences of its possible withdrawal from the INF on its own security, on the security of its allies and of the whole world. The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The Trump administration has adopted a dangerous position by walking away from Reagan’s 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. It has also proposed development of dangerous “low yield” nuclear weapons, which Congress has repeatedly rejected in the past. President Trump’s erratic behavior has raised the question of whether a single individual should have the authority to launch a first strike nuclear attack.
We’re asking Members of Congress to take proactive steps, including supporting direct negotiations with Russia, to reduce global nuclear risks and excess nuclear weapons. Call your representatives today at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to take action. Here are a few specific things you can ask:
Ask your representatives to support the extension of New START and voice their opposition to President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty.
Ask them to vote to block funding for Trump’s dangerous new “low-yield” nuclear weapons, also known as W76-2s.
INF Treaty Crisis: Background and Next Steps – February 1, 2019, Arms Control Association
Nuclear Weapons in the New Cyber Age – September 26, 2018, Des Browne, Ernest J. Moniz, Samantha Neakrase, Sam Nunn, and Dr. Page Stoutland, Nuclear Threat Initiative
2018 Nuclear Posture Review Resource Page – Federation of American Scientists
The “Consensual Straitjacket”: Four Decades of Women in Nuclear Security – March 5, 2019, Heather Hurlburt, Elizabeth Weingarten, Alexandra Stark, and Elena Souris, New America Foundation
The Case for a U.S. No-First-Use Policy – October 2018, Daryl Kimball, Arms Control Association