President Trump should heed Churchill’s warning not to escalate arms races
As Winston Churchill warned, if we ramp up the arms race, we’ll just “make the rubble bounce.”
The stakes are even higher today because so many countries have nuclear weapons — and they could set the world on fire. This moment calls for a strong, but nuanced and strategic policy, not incendiary bluster. (Attention, you-know-who).
In Europe, there’s increased talk of a European Union nuclear weapons program that would refocus France’s arsenal to protect the rest of Europe and operate under a common European command. Supposedly this plan would be enacted only if the Continent could no longer count on American protection.
Therein lies the problem. The world is rapidly moving away from reducing nukes toward adding nukes, an escalation in Europe’s military power and a break with American leadership. This is one of the consequences of Europe’s insecurity about the White House’s relationship with Russia and Russia’s more aggressive policies.
Similar angst is being stirred in Asia, where North Korea’s Kim Jong-un has forced the proliferation issue like a teenager playing “chicken” by firing four ballistic missiles toward Japan.
To counter his continuing recklessness, the U.S. is in the process of sharing its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense — known as THAAD — with South Korea, which is most immediately at risk.
China and Russia have yelped loudly in protest — they complain the THAAD radar might allow us to peep into their military activity. But the U.S. already has that capability in other radar systems and has every right to defend itself.
At the same time, Russia has escalated stakes in the region by launching a cruise missile in violation of the 1987 INF treaty.
The U.S. is being tested on multiple fronts. President Donald Trump’s statements have been divergent: He is on record saying, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.” He also talked of reaching a new arms agreement with Moscow that would reduce arms “very substantially.”
A show of strength is warranted, but it’s good to keep in mind the American arsenal is as much about reassuring allies as deterring enemies. Reassurance is about credible commitments backstopped by steady leadership. Both are now in question.
Projecting an image of sobriety and resolve must be at the core of our statecraft. We might not convince Russia and China of our best intentions, but we do have allies who want to be reassured.
When Trump meets with President Xi Jinping in April, he should emphasize the THAAD system wouldn’t be necessary if China leaned harder on Kim Jong-un to stop provocative missile launches. And he should let his friends in Russia know — preferably by high-level talks rather than tweets — that we will make sure NATO’s deterrence forces are well-prepared with the latest technology to counter a first-strike from Russia.
An arms race is hard to stop, but U.S. policy shouldn’t speed it up.
— The Dallas Morning News
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