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National Security Adviser Bolton Says Arms Treaty With Russia Has Outlived Its Purpose


President Trump's national security adviser John Bolton is in Moscow today. He reiterated the administration's announcement from this weekend that the U.S. does intend to withdraw from a 30-year-old nuclear non-proliferation treaty signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Today in Moscow, Bolton said the treaty has outlived its purpose.


JOHN BOLTON: So there's a new strategic reality out there. This is a Cold War, bilateral, ballistic missile-related treaty in a multipolar ballistic missile world.

CHANG: Joining us now to talk about what all of this will mean is Melissa Hanham at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. She's a nuclear weapons expert and joins us now. Thank you.

MELISSA HANHAM: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: So is what John Bolton saying accurate? Is this treaty past its prime?

HANHAM: No, not in any way. I'm surprised that he's even using that language. This treaty is about protecting Europe. So the U.S. and Soviet Union first agreed to this in 1987 at one of the really darkest points in their history because these missiles carrying nuclear warheads were really a threat to Western Europe. And so the U.S. wanted to protect allies by limiting the Soviet Union's ability to deliver nuclear weapons to them.

CHANG: How would pulling out of this treaty be a bad idea right now for security in Europe?

HANHAM: When they originally created this agreement, the idea was that the Soviet Union wouldn't be able to prevent NATO members from coming to each other's aides because of the threat of their nuclear intermediate-range missiles. And that's still true today. And so the fallout from these statements from the Trump administration is really multifold. You know, one, there was no advance notice that we know to any European allies or NATO, so there's going to be a lot of infighting and handwringing over what NATO should do. And, two, Europe and, I would say, at this point Russia and China and the whole world are really worried about what this means largely for treaties and arms control agreements around the world.

CHANG: I want to take on Bolton's statement about how this is now a multipolar world. Let's talk about China. How do China's missile capabilities factor into the Trump administration's decision to pull out of this treaty?

HANHAM: So it's true that the U.S. is concerned that China might use what's called a Dongfeng 26 to hit Guam where the U.S. has military installation or to hit an aircraft carrier, and that's what the U.S. is concerned about with China. The problem is that China was never a party of this agreement, so really they don't have any restrictions on building these kinds of missiles. And, you know, if the U.S. wants to negotiate with China a similar kind of deal, then they can do so.

CHANG: Could pulling out of this treaty complicate U.S.-Russia relations at this point?

HANHAM: Certainly. They both hold today just as they did back in 1987 the largest amount of nuclear weapons in the world. And it's in their self-interest to prevent other states or nonstate actors from getting as many nuclear weapons as they do.

CHANG: And how worried should the average citizen be who's watching all of this play out right now? Does leaving this treaty, in your opinion, make the world less safe?

HANHAM: For a long time, people really believed that international agreements were the best way to create peace and stability in the world. You didn't have to like your partner in a treaty, but you could still deal with them, and you could believe that they would obey the terms of the agreement. And you could verify that, and you could retaliate if they didn't. But a lot of those rules are going out the window. And increasingly under the Trump administration and under Putin and Xi Jinping, we're seeing more strong-arm moves.

And so what's more worrying for me is that we may go back to a time when whoever has the biggest missile, the largest warhead is the one that has the security. And that really takes us back to some dark times that many people worked very hard to prevent.

CHANG: Melissa Hanham at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, thank you very much for joining us.

HANHAM: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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