Reporting on China’s buildup of silos that would house nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles caused a replacement round of involves the us to not only continue its ambitious and expensive nuclear weapons spending, but to accelerate it. this is often a predictable reaction from those in favor of an ever-increasing defense budget, but also a deeply misguided one. rather than spending trillions of dollars on upgrading the world’s most dangerous weapons, we should always heed the bipartisan tradition of the 20th-century arms-control efforts.
When distrust and tension were at the very best levels between the us and Soviet Union , we were still ready to act within the national interest by constraining our adversaries while dramatically reducing nuclear stockpiles through sustained and consistent limitation . Following the near-catastrophe that was the Cuban Missile Crisis, the us and Soviet Union realized that their mutual capacity to finish the planet multiple times over was untenable. This sparked the primary serious nuclear limitation dialogues, which produced the Limited ban Treaty in 1963, followed by the landmark Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty in 1968, et al. within the decades that followed.
Crucially, there was broad recognition that it had been within the U.S. national interest to limit the Soviet Union’s nuclear expansion. Overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress approved multiple treaties limiting offensive nuclear weapons and defensive systems. Presidents of both parties championed these efforts, and Republicans in Congress often led the decision for limiting nuclear weapons. The results of these bipartisan efforts of multiple decades was the reduction in nuclear stockpiles by 85 percent from their conflict heights.
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The new Chinese advancements require a 21st-century limitation framework within the same vein. Already, there are involves limitation talks with China that evoke the memory of the strategic dialogues with the Soviet Union . Others have outlined specific steps that the Biden-Harris administration could fancy kickstart that process. However, notably absent from the pro-arms control chorus are conservative voices. While conservatives like Reagan , Mark Hatfield, Richard Lugar, and George H.W. Bush were instrumental within the efforts to scale back the risks of nuclear weapons, the bench of pro-arms control Republicans is dwindling. for instance , of the 13 Republicans who voted to ratify the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, only two remain. Recent votes within the House of Representatives tell an identical story, with only four Republicans voting in support of an amendment that expressed support for extending New START. Despite military leaders supporting limitation measures and public support for such efforts at levels few public policies receive, Republican elected officials remain stubbornly skeptical of limitation . Somehow, the understanding that it’s in our national interest to limit our adversary’s capabilities is being lost in favor of a destabilizing and expensive race .
As New START negotiator and former Deputy Secretary General of NATO Rose Gottemoeller reminds us, successful limitation negotiations nearly always follow some event that destabilizes the established order . China’s new silos are certainly one among those events. But the reaction should be a doubling down on efforts to bring them to the negotiating table rather than accelerating our nuclear weapons programs. As a growing power with global ambitions, China’s pursuit of a robust nuclear deterrent shouldn’t be treated as a shock. Instead it should be skilled accordingly, the U.S. should engage China on transparency measures to avoid miscalculation rather than racing to create arguably unnecessary and extravagantly expensive weapons systems. because the lessons from the conflict taught us, it’s possible to avoid a devastating nuclear war if you ask your adversaries – and because the Cuban Missile Crisis taught us, such a war is formed possible once you don’t. Unfortunately, Republicans seem to only believe one side of the equation when it involves nuclear weapons policy.
As history shows us, it’s possible to extend transparency and limit the risks of nuclear weapons by engaging in consistent limitation dialogue. China bears responsibility for responding to involves their participation in such talks. But accelerating U.S. nuclear weapons spending will only harden their position. rather than saber-rattling, the Biden-Harris administration and leaders across the political spectrum should be putting the pressure on China to return to the table. it had been a bipartisan tradition to push for limitation during the conflict . We cannot let that that tradition be forgotten at a time once we need it most.
Louie Reckford is a Policy Advisor at policy for America, covering Iran, North Korea , and nuclear nonproliferation issues. Before that, he spent five years in Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office during a range of positions, last because the Legislative Aide covering foreign affairs, defense, and veterans’ affairs.