Trump’s meeting with Putin may have had a surprise nuclear twist | AI
There is widespread uproar today over yesterday’s press conference between US President Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Trump’s apparent repudiation of his own intelligence agencies’ findings of Russian cyber-interference in the American election was called bizarre, shameful and disgraceful even by politicians in Trump’s own party. A former CIA director called the comments treasonous.
But the press conference may have contained one ray of light. In a little-noticed remark, Putin said he gave Trump “a note with a number of specific suggestions” about disarmament. “This includes the extension of the Strategic Offensive Arms Limitation Treaty.”
By this, he meant the 2010 New Start agreement limiting the two countries to 1550 warheads each. It expires in 2021 but has the option of being extended another five years. According to nuclear expert Joe Cirincione, “a simple exchange of diplomatic notes between the parties” could do it.
Russia appears to have taken the first step. It’s unclear how Trump responded to Putin but at the press conference he said “in terms of stopping [nuclear proliferation], we have to do it — ultimately, that’s probably the most important thing that we can be working on.”
According to a report by nuclear experts from Russia and the EU in April, extending the New Start agreement is important. It is the only remaining arms agreement between the two powers that involves direct inspections of each other’s weapons. Russia and the US hold 92 per cent of the world’s nukes.
Directly inspecting each other’s weapons not only verifies compliance with the treaty but is also vital for reducing military uncertainties between the two sides, making false alarms and accidental nuclear exchange less likely.
Putin seemed to acknowledge this on Monday, calling on both sides “to interact on the disarmament agenda, military and technical cooperation.”
Unfortunately, says Cirincione, Putin also appeared to link the extension of New Start with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which limits each side’s medium-range missiles. This treaty is also in limbo, with both sides accusing the other of violations.
Putin also mentioned US systems designed to shoot down incoming missiles, which Russia claims undermine nuclear deterrence, and the “agenda of non-placement of weapons in space”. Trump has created a Space Force to address military issues in orbit.
“I’m afraid that the outlook is cloudy with a chance of nuclear rain, if New Start extension is indeed linked to a resolution of all these other issues,” says Cirincione. He notes with concern that Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton – who is ideologically opposed to arms treaties – stood outside the door as the two presidents met this week in Helsinki, Finland.
At the end of the press conference Putin handed Trump a souvenir football from the recent World Cup in Russia and said “the ball is in your court”. It is: the world’s nuclear future could depend on whether Trump returns Putin’s note, and talks begin.
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