Show an ad over header. AMP

Nuclear free-for-all: The arms control era may be ending

The mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki have remained unreplicated for 75 years in part because the U.S. and Soviet Union — after peering over the ledge into nuclear armageddon — began to negotiate.

Why it matters: The arms control era that began after the Cuban Missile Crisis may now be coming to a close. The next phase could be a nuclear free-for-all.

Driving the news: New START, the last major pact constraining the U.S. and Russia — which together hold 91% of the world's nuclear warheads — is due to expire two weeks into the next presidential term, on Feb. 5.

  • President Trump has insisted on a new, larger deal that also constrains China — which has a far smaller program, but one that U.S. intelligence expects to grow quickly.
  • Beijing balked at American pressure to join recent U.S.-Russia nuclear talks in Vienna.
  • Trump has recently held a flurry of phone calls with Vladimir Putin, and he suggested last week that he might support a deal involving only the U.S. and Russia.
  • His top aides continue to insist on Chinese participation and to resist Putin's proposal for an unconditional extension.

Where things stand: Joe Biden on Thursday reiterated his commitment to extending New START if elected (he'd have 15 days to exchange diplomatic notes with Russia). Its fate would be far more uncertain in a second Trump term.

What they're saying: Rose Gottemoeller, the chief U.S. negotiator for New START under Barack Obama, says China won't rush to the negotiating table before February.

  • "It’s not rational, it’s not logical and they have absolutely no incentive to do so," she told Axios.
  • Meanwhile, "the Russians have just finished the modernization of their nuclear arsenal," and have "hot production lines."
  • “We could soon be facing a Russia who is far superior to us in nuclear numbers," she says, if the deal lapses.

Tim Morrison, who held both the arms control and Russia portfolios on Trump’s National Security Council, says those demanding a clean extension of New START might as well enter a car dealership and declare: "I am not leaving here until you sell me a car, no matter the price."

  • China and Russia fear Washington's deep pockets and the prospect of an unconstrained American arsenal, he says. That offers leverage.
  • America, meanwhile, has reason to fear Russia's fast-advancing capabilities (not covered by New START) and China's burgeoning nuclear buildup.
  • That explains the administration's emphasis on a new deal and its willingness to take the old one to the brink. “I am simply not in the panic that some people are to extend the treaty now," Morrison says.

The big picture: The expiration of New START — paired with Trump's withdrawal from the Open Skies and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaties (the latter due to Russian violations) — would signal the end of arms control as we know it.

  • If the arms control infrastructure built up during the Cold War collapses, it may be impossible to reassemble.
  • Morrison, now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, acknowledges that. But he points the finger at Moscow: “If arms control is dying, it’s because Russia killed it."

Even if New START survives, we are heading into a new, more uncertain era.

  • As communications channels break down and new technologies are built up, "the possibilities of a miscalculation are unfortunately higher than they have been in a long, long time," Ernest Moniz, the nuclear physicist and former energy secretary, tells Axios.

What to watch: Emerging technologies like cyber warfare and AI portend an uncertain future.

  • Meanwhile, arsenals of smaller-yield nukes are growing, including among newer nuclear powers like India and Pakistan. "They were built for battlefield use and so seem to lower the threshold for nuclear use," Gottemoeller says.
  • North Korea has entered the nuclear club, and others could follow. Those include Iran and Saudi Arabia, which is working with China to increase its capacity to generate nuclear fuel, the NYT reports.
  • With Russia boasting of "unstoppable" weapons and China working to narrow the nuclear gap, America is undertaking a modernization process which could cost $1.7 trillion over 25 years, Jessica Mathews writes in the New York Review of Books.

The bottom line: "Yet the public isn't scared," Mathews notes. "Decades of fearing a nuclear war that didn’t happen may have induced an unwarranted complacency that this threat belongs to the past."

Go deeper: How new tech raises the risk of nuclear war

Biden raises $141 million more than Trump

Joe Biden's campaign, the Democratic National Committee and joint fundraising committees raised $466 million cash on hand, the presidential candidate's team announced late Sunday.

Why it matters: President Trump's campaign raised $325 million, his campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh announced earlier Sunday.

Editor's note: This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

Virtual Emmys address chaotic year for American TV and society

The Emmy Awards Sunday night addressed the major U.S. issues this year — including the protests on systemic racism and police brutality, the wildfires engulfing parts of the West Coast, the census, the pandemic, essential works and the election.

Why it matters: Award shows have always addressed wider cultural issues, but this year — amid unprecedented stress and uncertainty — that trend has accelerated.

Keep reading... Show less

Arrest over Trump letter containing poison ricin

A suspect was arrested for allegedly "sending a suspicious letter" after law enforcement agents intercepted an envelope addressed to President Trump containing the poison ricin, the FBI confirmed in an emailed statement to Axios Sunday.

The big picture: Axios understands that the suspect, a woman, was arrested at the Canadian border while trying to enter New York.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump campaign goes all in on Pennsylvania

The president's campaign is placing more importance on Pennsylvania amid growing concern that his chances of clinching Wisconsin are slipping, Trump campaign sources tell Axios.

Driving the news: Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes, twice Wisconsin's number, actually has been trending higher in recent public and internal polling, a welcome development for the campaign.

Keep reading... Show less

Inside Joe Biden's Supreme Court strategy

Joe Biden’s closing argument will shift to a dominant emphasis on health care, turning the looming Supreme Court fight into a referendum on coverage and pre-existing conditions, officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: Biden aides believed they were winning when the race was about the coronavirus pandemic. Now they plan to use the Supreme Court opening as a raucous new field for a health care fight, returning to a theme that gave Democrats big midterm wins in 2018.

Keep reading... Show less

Ginsburg death displaces violence in cities as dominant social media storyline

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Ruth Bader Ginsburg-related social media interactions dwarfed all other topics this week — a departure from a run of weeks where, other than the coronavirus, violence in cities was the dominant storyline.

The big picture: In just two days, there were 41 million interactions (likes, comments or shares) on stories about the late Supreme Court justice, according to exclusive NewsWhip data.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden to Senate Republicans after RBG passing: "Please follow your conscience"

Joe Biden made a direct appeal to Senate Republicans in a speech addressing the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, urging them to "cool the flames that have been engulfing our country" by waiting to confirm her replacement until after the election.

The state of play: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said soon after the news of Ginsburg's death that President Trump's nominee would get a vote in the U.S. Senate by Election Day.

Keep reading... Show less

Leaked Treasury documents reveal massive money laundering in global banking system

Thousands of leaked government documents covering at least $2 trillion worth of transactions reveal how some of the world's biggest banks knowingly moved around the money of oligarchs, terrorists and criminals, with few consequences, according to a massive investigation by BuzzFeed News, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and hundreds of other news organizations.

The big picture: The investigation, published on Sunday, examines more than 2,100 suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by banks and other financial firms with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories