“What about China?” and the threat to US–Russian nuclear arms control

By David M. Allison, Stephen Herzog, July 20, 2020

A small Chinese flag placed in front of an empty chair. At a meeting between US and Russian negotiators in June, US Ambassador Marshall Billingslea tweeted a staged photo that appeared to show that seats had been prepared for a no-show Chinese delegation. However, the stunt reflected poorly on the United States, since the stars on the Chinese flag are inaccurately oriented. Photo credit: Official Account of US Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control Marshall S. Billingslea, Twitter.

The administration of President Donald J. Trump has consistently used fear of China to undermine nearly five decades of bipartisan consensus on US–Russian nuclear arms control. The negative consequences of these actions may last far beyond the Trump presidency. If generations of agreement between Democrats and Republicans on bilateral nuclear treaties with Russia erode, it will pose a significant setback to US national security and global stability. Future leaders may ultimately need to consider new approaches to nuclear risk reduction that preserve the benefits of the arms control regime.

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