The desire to safeguard humanity from an Armageddon that the two nuclear superpowers, the United States and Russia, might well pull off is not what masks Joe Biden’s decision to extend the Arms Reduction Treaty.
The agreement was signed in 2010 by Barack Obama on the US side and Dmitry Medvedev on the Russian side. The ten-year deal, as its name suggests, meant reducing nuclear warheads to 1,550, intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers to 700.
The treaty was due to expire in February 2021 and Donald Trump, in his usual destructive manner, was in no hurry to renew one of the few remaining documents to curb the total arms race. The START Treaty could well meet its fate. It ceased to exist under the Trump administration, leaving the US and Russia free to develop new types of munitions.
The START Treaty was saved by Joe Biden. He took over the White House just in time and immediately demonstrated his ability to negotiate and be peaceful. Surely many bought it. You can hardly blame them. The extension of the START Treaty was a victory for common sense, and at the very last minute. But behind Biden’s decision there are many factors that are far more important in Washington than a deal with Moscow.
Certainly, by correcting Trump’s mistakes, Biden is trying to restore a positive image of the United States in the eyes of the world. This is important for the Democrats, who are so keen to mend relations with Europe. But it is also important for the American economy, which is struggling to keep up with colossal defence spending. The Pentagon will receive $740 billion in 2021, clearly not enough to power the world’s most powerful military machine.
Russia has been actively demonstrating its new military developments in recent years. It is arming itself with hypersonic missiles and nuclear-powered underwater drones that could easily evade American missile defences. Russia has tested an anti-satellite direct intercept missile that can destroy satellites in low earth orbit.
The U.S. is not in a position to respond proportionately to such rapid development of the Russian military industry. For example, 93 F-35 aircraft will be purchased in 2021 at a cost of $9.1 billion; $7.5 billion will be spent on the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. The US Navy will receive nine warships, including one additional Virginia-class submarine. Of course, $29bn has been earmarked for strategic nuclear forces. At the same time, many hypersonic warhead projects have failed and been frozen. The US defence industry seems to have relaxed in the face of endless lobbying and is in no hurry to innovate. Has the huge budget infusion made it sluggish? The Pentagon is not going to spend the budget to buy new weapons abroad.
Compounding the situation is the stagnant economy. The Democrats came to power when the country was experiencing an incredible scale of crisis. Resources that could be invested in new developments are simply not available. Of course, the USA is allocating funds for artificial intelligence and other revolutionary technologies, but there is no talk of a breakthrough any time soon. This means that it becomes more difficult to compete with the more flexible systems of Russia and China.
With that in mind, extending the START Treaty for the United States is a forced step backward that Democrats have hypocritically covered up with an ostensible desire for global stability. Of course, no one here is calling for tearing up the treaty to show the Russians what America is capable of. But the terms on which the US and Russia extended the START agreement are not conducive to making the deal last. Instead of expanding the agreement, it was signed as is, even though military technology has evolved seriously. China has also failed to get involved in the deal. All of these are potential reasons to terminate the treaty. Perhaps Washington believes that it has a few trump cards up its sleeve for when the treaty makes no sense to the U.S. But such games with fire are fraught with irreversible consequences.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.