After the failure of last-ditch talks with Russia on Thursday, President Donald Trump will soon give formal notice that the U.S. will “suspend” and in six months withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, broke the back of the Cold War nuclear arms race. A new arms competition now beckons. A new treaty to reduce nuclear arms seems unlikely. Donald Trump’s endorsement of an intended defense to protect U.S. cities will prompt more missiles to defeat its purpose.
Vladimir Putin has already threatened an arms race with Trump’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty. Putin’s threat has been called and raised by Trump’s space wall. All this suits National Security Adviser John Bolton, Trump’s Svengali, just fine. The United States can compete and compete well in an unfettered arms race. Any time your national defense budget is ten times bigger than Russia’s and five times bigger than China’s, you can afford an arms race. But arms races usually don’t end well: even if you stay ahead of the competition, your security is diminished.