President Donald Trump’s new top expert on arms control agreements is pushing for new nuke negotiations between the U.S. and Russia, and is trying to bring China into the agreement as well.
U.S. officials who spoke with The Wall Street Journal on the condition of anonymity said Marshall Billingslea, Trump’s senior envoy on arms control, is seeking new talks on a new nuclear treaty with Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov. The agenda for their meeting is still in the works, but the meeting is likely to take place in Vienna.
“We have agreed that as soon as possible, taking into account the Covid virus, we will get together to begin negotiations,” a senior Trump administration official told The Wall Street Journal.
The new treaty being discussed between Billingslea and Ryabkov would potentially go further than the current New START treaty by also including China in the arms control measures.
China has traditionally rejected arms control agreements and has no history of opening its doors to arms control inspectors.
A U.S. official told The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. may use diplomatic and even economic means to get Russia to help bring China to the negotiating table.
“I am not going to pretend that this is going to be easy. It is something new: The trilateralization of nuclear arms control,” the source said. “The Chinese do not have the same history with arms-control verification, so this will be a learning experience for them, but it is an experience we expect them to gain.”
The arms control regulations in the new agreement would also potentially go further than those defined in the New START treaty. The extended provisions would cover all nuclear warheads, including those kept in storage or which are mounted on short-range systems.
The provision would help the U.S. to constrain Russia’s arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons, as well as Chinese warheads, which some China experts believe are often stored separately from their missiles.
Regulating down to the specific number of warheads would go further than past arms control agreements that have only measured the number of individual missiles, bombers, and warships capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
China has an estimated 320 nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists. By the same group’s estimate the U.S. has 1,750 nuclear weapons and around 3,800 warheads in storage overall.
The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency believes that China could more than double its nuclear arsenal over the next decade.
A new arms agreement constraining the three major nuclear powers could take years to negotiate.
Talk of a new arms control treaty comes amid U.S. moves to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies. The treaty allows for participating countries to fly surveillance flights over other member nations to observe military behavior and assure member nations that others are not planning military action and are being transparent. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Thursday the U.S. would be withdrawing from the deal over the course of the next six months, citing Russian noncompliance with the agreement.
The U.S. has already withdrawn from other arms control agreements, such as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and Trump is reportedly considering letting another agreement, the New START treaty, expire.