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Democrats talk about treaties with Russia to spite Trump, but nothing will change without genuine goodwill, and they have none

George Szamuely
George Szamuely

is a senior research fellow at Global Policy Institute (London) and author of Bombs for Peace: NATO's Humanitarian War on Yugoslavia. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeSzamuely

is a senior research fellow at Global Policy Institute (London) and author of Bombs for Peace: NATO's Humanitarian War on Yugoslavia. Follow him on Twitter @GeorgeSzamuely

Democrats talk about treaties with Russia to spite Trump, but nothing will change without genuine goodwill, and they have none
US Democrats have rained abuse on Russia for the entire Trump presidency. Now they claim they want to restore and preserve the treaties he ditched. It’s politically expedient, but not a sign of any real change towards Russia.

President Trump’s confusing message on the subject of Russia has predictably got him into trouble. The Democrats, having spent the better part of the last four years accusing Trump of working for the Kremlin, may now be poised to present themselves to the public as the party best able to secure a stable, working relationship with Russia.

Trump has only himself to blame for his predicament. Back in 2016, he had promised improved relations with Russia. He failed to deliver on that, boasting instead that as president he has been “tougher on Russia” than anyone else. Yet, in an echo of 2016, he continues to insist that, at some point in the future, he will secure some unspecified wonderful deal with Russia.

“There’s a very good chance we’ll make a new agreement or do something to put that agreement back together,” Trump declared upon announcing withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty. “I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to pull out and they’re going to come back and want to make a deal.”

Trump has cultivated cordial personal relations with President Putin while pursuing policies adverse to Russia’s national interests. Trump imposed sanctions on Russia, expelled Russian diplomats and closed diplomatic compounds, sent lethal weapons to Ukraine, launched missiles against Russian ally Syria and seized the country’s oil fields. He also withdrew from the Intermediate Nuclear-Forces and Open Skies treaties.

The Democrats have ignored Trump’s actual policies, focusing instead on his courteous personal relations with Putin, claiming to see in this evidence of Trump’s subservience to the Kremlin.

However, just as the supposedly erratic and mercurial Trump of 2016 seized on Hillary Clinton’s war hawkishness to present himself as the peace candidate, the Russiagate Democrats are poised to seize on Trump’s rejection of any restraint on US power to present themselves as the party of global stability and diplomatic give-and-take.

Arms control agreements have always been very popular among the American public, making all the more bizarre Trump’s eagerness to withdraw from them. Democrats know this, which is why they cleverly combine ferocious denunciations of Russia with pious calls for US adherence to arms control agreements.

Trump’s withdrawal from the INF and Open Skies Treaties and his willingness to let the New START Treaty lapse, not to mention his abandonment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, have given the Democrats their desired opening.

Last month, the Democratic chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees, Eliot Engel (New York), and Adam Schiff (California) respectively – both ardent purveyors of the Trump-Russia collusion theory – sought extension of the New START Treaty by requiring congressional approval for any increase of the US nuclear arsenal above the limits of the 2010 treaty. Engel asserted:

“This Administration’s recklessness has left New START as the only remaining agreement limiting Russia’s nuclear weapons. Despite the White House’s claims, there’s no ‘better deal’ with Russia and China on the horizon, and the clock on New START is ticking. The president doesn’t seem to have a problem with Russia developing more and more nuclear weapons that could strike the United States, so Congress has to do everything we can to keep these protections in place.”

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Engel’s amendment sought extension of the treaty for five years unless Russia is in material breach of it.

Back in December 2018, a number of Democrat senators, including presidential contenders Bernie Sanders from Vermont, Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Dianne Feinstein (California), and Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), wrote a letter to President Trump urging him to “redouble diplomatic efforts to preserve” the 1987 INF Treaty. They also urged extension of the New START Treaty:

“A collapse of the INF Treaty and failure to renew New START would lead to the absence of verifiable limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces for the first time since the early 1970s. New START provides the U.S. military and intelligence community with crucial insight into the location, movement, and elimination of Russia’s strategic forces.”

Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden himself has promised to renew the New START Treaty. The treaty, he said in a July 2019 speech at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, was an “anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia.” He promised to use the extension of the treaty “as a foundation for new arms control agreements.”

Biden criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty. “Instead of tearing up treaties that make us and our allies more secure, President Trump should take common sense steps to keep Americans safe,” Biden said in a statement. “He should remain in the Open Skies Treaty and work with allies to confront and resolve problems regarding Russia’s compliance.”

Biden has also warned that Trump’s lack of interest in reaching or sustaining arms control agreements is making the world more dangerous:

“On nonproliferation and nuclear security, the United States cannot be a credible voice while it is abandoning the deals it negotiated. From Iran to North Korea, Russia to Saudi Arabia, Trump has made the prospect of nuclear proliferation, a new nuclear arms race, and even the use of nuclear weapons more likely. As president, I will renew our commitment to arms control for a new era.”

There is no reason to take seriously such pieties from Democrats. Arms control agreements in the absence of an overall improvement of relations between countries have historically proven to be short-lived and meaningless. The SALT and ABM treaties of the 1970s were signed during a time of détente. When détente came to an end in 1979, so did the desire to sign any more treaties. There were no new arms control agreements until a new round of détente took place during the late 1980s.

This is why the JCPOA proved to be such a spectacular failure. The Obama administration did not envisage the agreement as part of any initiative to improve relations between the United States and Iran. Since Obama did nothing to alter long-standing US hostility toward Iran, the JCPOA was vulnerable to attack from the next administration, whether Trump’s or anyone else’s. Why stick with an agreement with an implacable enemy who wishes us ill?

The fate that befell the JCPOA will surely befall any arms control agreement that Democrats today promise to negotiate and sign. The Democrats are, if anything, even more pathological in their hostility toward Russia than they were in 2016. They continue to accuse Russia of all manner of malfeasance, from alleged interference in elections, to assassinations, to cheating on arms control agreements, to human rights abuses, to thwarting US interests at every turn. Just as they did with Iran, Democrats want to sign agreements with Russia without having to do anything to improve relations with Russia.

Trump has only himself to blame. Had he taken the trouble to try to get along with Russia – the policy promised in 2016 – he would not only have renewed New Start and INF treaties to boast of but he would have helped chart peaceful-transition processes in Ukraine and Syria and launched joint counterterrorism and cybersecurity initiatives. He would thus have been in a good position to seek a landslide re-election as a peacemaker, much as Richard Nixon did in 1972.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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