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On Friday, Trump's White House announced it wanted to kill a Soviet-era arms treaty. Over the weekend, people who try to prevent nuclear holocausts noted that this was a bad idea and urged the administration to reconsider. Today, Trump's resident war machine, John Bolton, went to Moscow to formally announce that we're going all-in on the Trump Cold War. Now might be a good time to start practicing that old "duck and cover" routine.


The Trump administration wants to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) for what it says is years of filthy Russian lies. According to them, Russia has been has been not-so-secretly rebuilding its supply of medium range missiles, and they feel it's much easier to just start a new Cold War instead of a bunch of boring diplomatic talks that make for bad TV. At a rally on Saturday, Trump caught a press gaggle off guard when he declared that Russia wasn't keeping up with its end of the bargain and said, "we're going to terminate the agreement and we're going to pull out."

It's tough to stay out of the weeds on this one, so here are the basics: The treaty bans ground-based medium-range cruise and ballistic missiles, and the US has accused Russia of violating the INF since 2014. Russia says we're full of shit, and that it will "restore balance" if the US pulls out of the agreement. Most nerds think this has less to do with Russia, and everything to do with Trump's trade war in China. In any event, this whole scheme is the brainchild of John Bolton, a man who thinks arms treaties like the INF cut off Uncle Sam's balls. Bolton's idea of effective diplomacy is to to scream loudly and shake a nuclear powered stick.

It's a "known-known" that Putin's regime lies about everything, and that he's paranoid. Putin believes that Russia could be invaded at any moment by the US, China, protesters paid by George Soros, aliens, or the ghosts of cosmonauts past. Putin has been slowly rebuilding Russia's military, but is hindered by treaties like the INF. In 2013 Putin said, "nearly all of our neighbors are developing these kinds of weapons systems," and he said the terms of the INF were "debatable." A year later the Obama administration called Russia a bunch of damn liars after they were caught testing the banned missiles. Russia lied (again) when they were confronted and has told everyone to take a flying fuck at a rolling ruble every year since. Last year, Russia denied deploying two battalions of mobile launchers that really freaked out the more mild-mannered Pentagon brass.

Trump and Republicans with war boners are desperate to kill the treaty and immediately start rebuilding the US nuclear arsenal. The Russians, clearly suffering from buyers remorse, say that this is "blackmail" and Trump is destabilizing a world they already broke. Meanwhile, the rest of Europe is singing "Why Can't We Be Friends" and hoping Trump is only bragging about the size of his big, red button (again).

The crux of the treaty is that it bans any ground-based "unmanned, self-propelled vehicle that sustains flight through the use of aerodynamic lift over most of its flight path" and that can travel about 300-3,500 miles. Russia argues that the US already violated the treaty with missile batteries in NATO countries, and with our drones going shithouse in the Middle East. Uncle Sam says this is semantics, and technically our fancy new missile launchers can shoot all sorts of things. Big things, small things, things with and without nuclear tips. Further, we don't use "killer robots" (yet), and the VA has spreadsheets full of drone pilots with PTSD as evidence of that fact.

Most nerds seem to think Trump is using Russia as a foil for China. China isn't a signatory to the INF and can build whatever the hell it wants. They've been building new islands and new military bases in the South China Sea to claim ownership of the entire region and its oil. The Chinese harass anyone who comes close to one of their oversized rocks, including the US Navy. It's possible that Trump suddenly realized trade wars are hard to win, and is using a departure from the INF as a half-assed negotiating tactic to force the Russians and the Chinese to the bargaining table. Like a Roomba that finds a fresh dog turd, Trump's idea of foreign policy is to make as big of a mess as possible; eventually someone will clean it up.

This treaty was signed when the nuclear club was more exclusive, and a lot has changed since Rick Astley promised never to give you up. In that time both Russia and China have beefed up their militaries, invaded their neighbors, started cyber wars, and tried to goad US forces into conflict. It's entirely possible that this is a 3-Dimensional chess game, but it's unlikely. Bolton hates the INF so much he trashed it in a 2011 op-ed that began by quoting Charles de Gaulle, "Treaties, you see, are like girls and roses: they last while they last." I guess quoting "Conan" was too barbaric.

[ NYTimes / Congressional Research Service / Politico / WaPo / Bloomberg ]

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Dominic Gwinn

Dominic is a broke journalist in Chicago. You can find him in a dirty bar talking to weirdos, or in a gutter taking photos.

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