A Nuclear Test Would Blow Up in Trump’s Face

June 11, 2020
Sarah Bidgood

The following was originally published by Foreign Policy.

The last 42 months have offered a sobering window into the Trump administration’s philosophy on nuclear arms control. On display is its penchant for withdrawing from agreements rather than engaging in dispute resolution—be they the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or, most recently, the Open Skies Treaty. While many experts see this approach as ill-conceived and damaging to U.S. national security interests, the administration often frames it as a form of brinkmanship designed to signal resolve in an era of strategic competition. The intended message appears to be that the United States will no longer play ball unless its rivals—Russia and China—agree to abide by Washington’s rules.

The latest example of this tendency comes amid reports that the administration might conduct a “rapid” nuclear test to strengthen its hand in negotiations with China and Russia. Experts around the world have denounced this proposal as dangerous, foolhardy, and “catastrophically stupid.” As they point out, were the United States to test for the first time in nearly three decades, it would open the door for the resumption of widespread explosive testing. At the same time, it would undermine the nuclear taboo, hurt the credibility of the nonproliferation regime, and diminish support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). While all true, these arguments are unlikely to sway this administration, which has shown little regard for existing norms or the disarmament machinery writ large.

What might give decision-makers pause, though, is the fact that a nuclear test is unlikely to be an effective signal in the current context. It would not help deliver President Donald Trump’s goal of a trilateral arms control agreement, but it would provide ample opportunity for misinterpretation and a response in kind. In the process, it would likely put Washington in a worse negotiating position than when it started, making it not only risky but also pointless to boot.

Continue reading at Foreign Policy.

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