The President Trump administration, in the person of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has announced the United States withdrawal from the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), successfully negotiated in stages between Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and President Nixon (1972), President Ford (1974 and President Carter (1979). President Reagan advanced the ball with negotiations to actually reduce nuclear weapons in negotiations with then Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev – which resulted in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). It was all working fairly well in those early years – that is until the rise to power of Vladimir Putin. (is it only me, or every time you see Putin’s name, do you also hear the Darth Vader theme music?)
Putin, a lifelong bureaucrat and foreign agent in Moscow’s brutal KGB intelligence operation, was no fan of Gorbachev’s policies of détente, perestroika and glasnost – all terms of the era to describe the warming relationship between the old Soviet Union and the United States. When the entire Soviet Union collapsed like the iconic Berlin Wall, Putin was crushed and absorbed by ambition to restore Russia to the glory days of the past.
Putin became the ruler over Russia in 2000 – serving as President except for four years after he was term limited from a third term. During that time, Putin placed his closest ally, Dimitry Medvedev, as the figurehead president while Putin ruled from the office of Prime Minister.
Since his rise to power has carried out his plan of Russian dominance over world affairs and the restoration of the old Union with a three-path strategy. He coveted the old territories that once comprised the Soviet Union and forcibly reclaimed Georgia and the Crimea portion of Ukraine – with obvious plans for further expansion. He rattles the sabers at eastern Europe with a massive military buildup along Russia’s western border – including thousands of cruise missiles.
His second path has been to restore the old east-west political polarization that defined the Cold War of the mid-20th Century. He expanded his influence in the western hemisphere – which was pretty much limited to Cuba and flirtations with such other places as Nicaragua — to include propping up the floundering dictatorship in Venezuela. He is working to re-establish the Cold War relationship between Moscow and Beijing – which has always been an uneasy alliance, at best. And finally, he has aggressively reasserted himself into the quagmire of the Middle East by fostering an Iran/Syria anti-American alliance.
Putin’s third path is a massive military buildup. In addition to all those cruise missiles, Putin is bragging about a new generation of nuclear missiles that he claims cannot be stopped by current western defense systems. Since the inception of his presidency, Putin has discarded the SALT Agreement with the same contemptuous abandonment that Adolph Hitler kicked British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement to the gutter.
After years of mounting only lip service complaints for Russia’s continuing violations of SALT, the Trump administration has finally ended America’s diplomatic policy if acquiescence.
This has not been well received by the political left, of course. One response comes from those who – for political reasons – will see no good in ANYTHING Trump or his people say or do. They are complaining and reporting that Trump has arbitrarily ended a treaty as a favor to Putin – since Putin can now be free from the restraints of the Treaty.
(Let’s pause of a moment to consider that argument.) Hmmm. So … by blowing the whistle on SALT, we will be enabling Putin to … (thinking) … to do exactly what he has been going in violation of the Treaty while we have been adhering to it. I guess when the left has no steak, they have to try to sell baloney.
Political insider Leon Panetta tried to straddle the issue by admitting that Russia has been violating the Treaty – and he should know because he was Defense Secretary under Obama, when Putin was doing it with abandon — but complained that Trump ended SALT without anything in its place. That is typical Washington logic. How can you put something else in its place to achieve the same goals when the other party is not interested in those same goals? Geez.
The other criticism from the left is that a treaty in which one party is not fully complying is still better than no treaty at all. This is exactly the kind of old guard establishment thinking that has been allowing Putin to do as he pleases for the past two decades. It is the same thinking that enabled Kim Jong-un to get nuclear weapons even as the American establishment consistently stated – for the past 40 years — that a nuclear North Korea was “unacceptable.”
One of the most disingenuous frequently heard complaints against Trump’s decision to terminate SALT is that he was launching a new arms race. (Let’s pause again to more fully contemplate this one.) Hmmm. So … in #NeverTrump liberal-think, if the United States responds to Russia’s building up its military and nuclear capability for the past 18 years in violation of SALT, somehow, we of the United States are the ones launching a new arms race. Aren’t we reacting because Russia has launched an arms race while we have been pretending not to notice?
We should remind ourselves of how Hitler built an enormous war machine in the 1930s in violation of the terms of the Versailles Treaty ending World War I — and that was crafted to prevent Germany from again becoming a military power. At the same time, we were pounding our swords into plowshares. The folks in Washington and other western capitals were ignoring the Fuhrer’s violations, and we know how that turned out.
A number of commentators and media panelists also expressed chagrin, alleging that by ending SALT, China would be uninhibited in pursuing a military buildup – including nuclearization. This from people the media constantly refers to as “experts.” They should know that China is not part of SALT and that Beijing has been aggressively building up its military for decades.
What SALT really does vis-à-vis China is inhibit the United States from keeping pace with Chinese military advancements. In other words, there are two arms races going on currently in which we are not participating – not to mention what is going on in North Korea and Iran.
It is certainly unfortunate that something as important as SALT and START– two of the great diplomatic achievements of its time – have been rendered meaningless by Putin. But, we should not hold to some romantic attachment to agreements that have been rendered inoperative. Trump has only trumped pretense with reality.
So, there ‘tis.