Op-Ed

Tear-Down Mode

in Program

Republican insurgents in the Congress are now in full tear-down mode, aiming their wrecking balls at what’s left of seven decades of bipartisan achievement to reduce nuclear dangers and nuclear arsenals. The disruptors are now ascendant in Washington, with the Disruptor-in-Chief setting the tone from the Oval Office. He busies himself dissing allies, tweeting out red lines, and leaving wreckage in his wake on a daily basis, while setting up my beloved country for reckonings to come.

What, pray tell, is the purpose of this disruption? How does it make our lives better or safer? Would someone leading the charge in the disruption business, like Senator Tom Cotton or Congressman Trent Franks, kindly explain the greater good that comes from undermining the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or building “robust” missile defenses that will fuel a buildup of Chinese warheads while killing prospects of further reductions with Russia?

How does dismembering what’s left of the global nuclear order help when the geopolitical order is wobbly? Would the disruptors please explain why making the world safe for renewed nuclear-weapon testing is a good idea? Are the United States and the world safer without agreed, verifiable constraints and reductions on nuclear forces? If 1,500 potential designated ground zeros for low-yield nuclear weapon detonations are insufficient, how will increasing this number or fine-tuning weapon designs in the U.S. nuclear arsenal be persuasive, let alone decisive? What’s the game plan behind the tear down? Where does it lead? How does it help? There are no sensible answers to these questions. When the public square is dominated by disruptors who trash nuclear diplomacy, nuclear dangers can only accelerate.

I’ve stopped watching television coverage of this ongoing tragedy, limiting my intake to trusted websites. That’s quite enough to be stunned by Trump’s narcissism and inadequacies. One picture says it all: Trump on the phone, speaking to a world leader, who will also be stunned by the President’s unfiltered ignorance or affronts. Leaning in from a chair across from the President’s cluttered desk is Michael Flynn, the most ill-equipped national security adviser ever. Taking notes is Vice President Mike Pence, looking a bit stunned, even though he is the biggest beneficiary of Trump’s rise, aside from the Trump family’s brand. The Darth Vader of Disruption, Stephen Bannon, appears near the edge of the frame. And there, standing to the side, is Reince Priebus, also taking notes. Such is the President’s brain trust, his phalanx of savvy geopolitical warriors.

This crew does not have the benefit of assuring cover stories, since accounts of the President’s conversations are being leaked as a public service by those who seek safeguards against this dangerous circus act. Hanging up on the Australian Prime Minister. The Mexican president gets threatened with invasion. (Just joking.) What affronts did the German Chancellor encounter? Stay tuned. A belated Happy New Year greeting to the Chinese President.

The most notable exception to this string of offenses is, of course, Vladimir Putin, who has received a free pass, the reasons for which will eventually become all too clear. Putin offers Trump the valuable extension of New START’s on-site inspections for another five years – a gesture he denied to Barack Obama – and Trump doesn’t pocket it. He’s unaware of the gift, a perpetual prisoner to his own instincts and appetites. He needs help to seize opportunities at nuclear threat reduction, and it’s not in the room with him. He’ll need help when he finds himself in a crisis of his own making, too.

Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. This piece originally ran in Arms Control Wonk on February 10, 2017.

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