The long-running narrative of “collusion” between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian intelligence peddled by hack journalists and entitled former U.S. “intelligence” officials has been dealt another significant blow. Never mind the fact that absolutely no evidence linking Trump to a Russian influence operation in 2016 has been uncovered (despite nearly two years of an out-of-control special counsel investigation), President Trump last week withdrew America’s participation in the Reagan-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia.
In his statement explaining why the administration would pull out of the treaty, the president argued:
Russia has violated the agreement. They’ve been violating it for many years. And I don’t know why President Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out. And we’re not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we’re not allowed to. We’re the ones that have stayed in the agreement and we’ve honored the agreement. But, Russia, has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement. So we’re going to terminate the agreement. We’re gonna pull out.
Mind you, this announcement was made on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that his country would deploy hypersonic missiles in the “coming months.” This is a type of weapon against which the United States has no defense.
The INF treaty was signed in 1987 between former President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. It was not meant to end the threat of nuclear war. It was intended, however, to reduce the likelihood that nuclear weapons would be used in war. The treaty did not take aim at reducing the number of the big nuclear weapons either the United States and Russia possess (what are known as strategic nuclear weapons); instead, the agreement attempted to end the development of smaller, medium-sized nuclear devices. While the strategic nuclear weapons are the things that terrify most people, the intermediate range, nonstrategic nuclear arms are the ones most likely to be used in any conflict.
Funny thing, though: for all of the praise coming from the political class over the INF treaty, Trump is correct when he says the Russians aren’t respecting the terms of the agreement.
Since former President Barack Obama’s “New START” treaty with the Russian Federation in 2011, Moscow has been allowed the capacity to modernize and expand its intermediate-range nuclear forces while the United States is not. Medium-range nuclear missiles are the most threatening to the NATO forces charged with defending Europe from a Russian invasion since such weapons would be deployed in conflict by Russia to “soften up” American and NATO lines. Think of these weapons essentially as big artillery pieces (since that’s how the Russians traditionally have viewed them).
More dangerously, the Chinese were not signatories to the INF Treaty. For that reason alone, the United States Pacific Command has been pushing to deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons in the Asia-Pacific region. But that isn’t really possible under the INF. It doesn’t matter that the missiles would be used to deter the Chinese—the Russians view any American development of intermediate-range nukes as a threat to them. After all, the Russians recognized that they had an advantage over the United States when it came mid-range nuclear devices and they were happy to keep it.
Meanwhile, China has assiduously built up its own nuclear forces over the decades. They now have the capability to threaten American forces in the Asia-Pacific along with our allies with intermediate-range ballistic missiles (which could devastate American forces forward-deployed in the region). America is playing catch-up. Abrogating the treaty allows the United States to defend itself properly. This is especially true since, on top of their intermediate-range nuclear weapons, some analysts fear that China has quietly amassed a large nuclear weapons stockpile in a 3,000-mile tunnel known as the “underground great wall.”
Unfortunately, we live in a world where the United States must assume the worst and plan accordingly.
Moreover, the old INF treaty makes it nearly impossible for the United States to deploy even a rudimentary ballistic missile defense system on the ground in Europe (although a space-based defense would be better). Any treaty which not only hamstrings the ability of the United States to defend either itself or its allies is an unethical one to enforce today. This is doubly true, considering that the Russians have long ignored the treaty and America’s greatest rival today, China, never even signed it.
By pulling out of this treaty, Trump is putting America first—and complicating Russia’s (as well as China’s) ability to threaten the United States.
So, Robert Mueller, please explain to us exactly how Trump is a Russian agent.
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