“As recently as, like, two weeks ago, Russia wants to make a deal very much on arms control and nuclear. And that’s smart. And so do we. We think it would be a good thing,” Trump said on Tuesday, in a press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Russia wants to do something badly and so do we. It would be a great thing to do.
The deal would either involve China right from the start, or Beijing would be brought in later, Trump added. He also told reporters that Chinese diplomats expressed eagerness for such a deal during their trade negotiations with the US.
The US president made the same point in meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, all part of the NATO summit taking place in London this week.
Trump’s critics in the Western press were quick to point out that China’s public position does not match his claims. However, the very same media have got so much so wrong so often, it is difficult to sort out whether their understanding of Beijing’s position is any better than Trump’s.
Russia’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and arms control is on the record, despite Trump’s claims that Moscow had somehow violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Even as he accused Russia of “not living up to” the INF on Tuesday, Trump also described it as “unfair” and “obsolete deal anyway,” covering “things that frankly didn’t matter anymore” – a laundry list of excuses suggesting the original argument wasn’t strong enough.
Moscow certainly believes that US claims of Russian violations were merely a pretext for Trump to announce his administration would scrap the INF earlier this year.
“The unilateral withdrawal from the INF treaty by the US, destruction of one of the basic documents on arms control, based on an imaginary pretext, has seriously complicated the situation in the world,” is how Russian President Vladimir Putin phrased it in August, as the clock started by the US withdrawal ran out.
The only remaining arms control deal between Washington and Moscow is now the New START or SNV-III, which went into effect in 2011 and expires in 2021 unless it is extended. Considering that it was negotiated by the Obama administration – just like the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that Trump also casually shredded in 2018 – the prospects for its renewal are decidedly grim.
One thing is clear: New START is not the deal Trump was talking about at the NATO summit, because the way it is structured does not apply to the Chinese nuclear arsenal at the moment.
This is not the first time the US president has floated the idea of a tripartite nuclear pact between Washington, Beijing and Moscow. He has been talking about the concept at least since April this year, expanding on talks about denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. It is difficult to disagree with Trump’s pronouncements about the horror of nuclear weapons and the need to dismantle them to avoid the destruction of humanity.
And yet, the disconnect between the US president’s rhetoric and actions is once again impossible to bridge. Trump has talked about ending the endless foreign wars, but kept US troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. He has talked about national sovereignty, only to turn around and back regime-change operations and crippling sanctions against countries that refuse to bend the knee. He keeps talking about arms control, while building up the US nuclear arsenal and shredding existing treaties.
Trump prides himself on being a deal-maker, and says he wants to negotiate better deals for Americans. So far, however, his attempt to renegotiate trade with China or denuclearization with North Korea have not borne fruit. Even when he is successful – for example, with the USMCA trade pact with Canada and Mexico – the House of Representatives is controlled by the opposition Democrats who apparently have no interest in ratifying it.
Given that the Democrats were behind the accusations that Moscow “meddled” in the 2016 election that put Trump in the White House, they are highly unlikely to approve any deals with Russia that he negotiates. Meanwhile, Trump’s own party has been so fired up by his trade war with China, they might be the ones objecting to any arms control treaties with Beijing.
“It would be a great thing to do,” Trump said of this hypothetical nuclear pact with Russia and China, before adding, “Or it may not happen.” Sadly, he may be right about both.
By Nebojsa Malic, senior writer at RT