Mar 10, 2023

John Bolton, the Washington Post and the Death of Arms Control

Titan II ICBM at the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona. Photo Jurvetson (flickr)

Arms control and disarmament are on life support, and John Bolton and the Washington Post have predictably come along to try to prevent any resuscitation.  The Post masthead daily proclaims that “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” but the paper fails to recognize that there are seminal issues that affect the interests of democratic regimes.  Arms control is one of these issues.

Bolton has been fighting arms control and disarmament for the past several decades, and the Post has willingly provided a sounding board for his specious arguments.  In tracing the dangerous demise of disarmament, Bolton emerges as a dangerous and permanent presence.  He was the key adviser to the Bush and Trump administrations when they abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iranian nuclear accord).

These steps amounted to dangerous personal actions that were devoid of any consultative or substantive process.  National Security Adviser Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were also enthusiastic supporters of regime change in Iran, which ignored our ill-fated experience with regime change in Iran 70 years ago.  Bolton also played a key role in the disinformation campaign against Iraq in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of 2003.

Bolton was the arms control adviser to President Bush in 2002, when he guided the abrogation of the ABM Treaty, the cornerstone of strategic deterrence and one of the pearls of Soviet-American disarmament policy.  Bush abrogated the ABM Treaty without cause in order to incur the outrageous and unnecessary expense of a National Missile Defense (NMD).  There is no better example in the creation of our national insecurity than Bolton’s foolish belief in thinking the United States could create an impenetrable nuclear umbrella.

In addition to encouraging an end to the Iran nuclear accord, which promised to bring a measure of predictability to the volatile Middle East, Bolton orchestrated the abrogation of the INF Treaty, which was responsible for the destruction of more missiles than any disarmament treaty in history.  The combination of ending the INF Treaty and any failure to renew the New START accord guarantees increased defense spending in the United States.

The Trump administration followed its INF disaster with withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty, which had allowed more than 30 nations to permit unarmed observation aircraft to fly over their territories to observe military forces and activities.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower first proposed an Open Skies agreement in 1955 to reduce the risk of war for both intelligence and confidence-building purposes.  The Soviet Union rejected the proposal, which opened the door to U.S. U-2 flights over the Soviet Union to collect strategic intelligence.  In withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty in 2000, the United States ended the “only means” for European states to “alleviate security concerns through timely overhead imagery,” according to former secretary of state George Shultz.

As part of the Trump administration, Bolton took advantage of the total inexperience and ignorance of Trump and his key advisers regarding arms control and disarmament.  (The Washington Post is similarly taking advantage of its readership in allowing a troglodyte like Bolton regular access to its editorial pages.)  In addition to leading the way in abrogating important treaties, Bolton did his best to weaken the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), signed by 35 nations, to limit the sale of sophisticated weaponry, particularly advanced armed drones. Trump and Bolton ignored the restrictions of the MTCR in order to sell the MQ-9 Reaper to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have used advanced U.S. weaponry to conduct war crimes in Yemen.

Over the years, Bolton was also influential in making sure that the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance assigned a high priority to replacing the current nuclear force, which was described as “obsolete” and “inflexible.”  Similarly, the Pentagon’s Nuclear Posture Review typically referred to current strategic weaponry as “old” and “untrustworthy.”  These documents are part of the Pentagon’s con game for greater defense spending in an effort to increase the overkill capability that currently exists.

The tragic reality is that nuclear weapons have no utilitarian value whatsoever, and the fact that American and Soviet leaders maintained a nuclear weapons inventory at one time that totaled more than 60,000 warheads points to the irresponsibility and cavalier attitudes of leaders in both countries.  With the abrogation of the ABM and INF treaties and the possible expiration of the New START Treaty in 2026, we are looking at a renewed arms race and the further appropriation of scarce resources on unneeded weapons,

If the United States is serious about arms control, the Biden administration needs to respond to Vladimir Putin’s previous interest in engaging the United States on no-first-use of nuclear weapons; no militarization of outer space; and the creation of nuclear-free zones.  Unlike Trump and Bush, who abrogated important arms control treaties. Putin merely suspended Russian membership in New START, which suggests the Kremlin hopes to resume the strategic discussion at some stage.

Meanwhile, Bolton argues that the strengthening of China as a nuclear power and its “entente with nuclear-superpower Russia” means that arms agreements with Moscow are not only “inadvisable but dangerous.”  Au contraire!  There has never been a more important time for rebuilding arms control agreements and the nuclear disarmament movement itself.

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