On Friday, President Trump extended an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to come to Washington. Putin has not yet formally accepted the offer, but if the two leaders meet for a second summit, there is one thing that should be a priority on their agenda: arms control.
Trump would prefer to make this meeting a victory for himself – not another weird performance as in Helsinki. Russia seems on board with the idea of arms control talks. And beyond political points, limiting nuclear arms with Russia is also a good move for the country.
To do this, Trump should make clear to Putin that his threat to pull the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, commonly known as INF, would not be finalized without negotiation. That agreement bans intermediate range ground launched missiles, and it successfully limited an entire class of weapons in both the U.S. and Russia.
Putting INF negotiations on the table would give Trump the opportunity to further pressure Moscow to comply with the terms of the Reagan-era agreement and get rid of its 9M729 missiles, which the U.S. views as violating the terms of the treaty.
For that to be a good faith effort, however, Washington must also express a willingness to evaluate its current missiles in Romania which have, not without cause, drawn complaints from Moscow for also failing to comply with the INF provisions.
Trump would also be wise to pursue an extension of the New START treaty past the current 2021 expiration date. That agreement, more formally the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, limits long-range missiles, bombers and warheads that both Russia and the U.S. have on hand. Like the INF, New START allows for verification and inspection as well as reporting on stockpiles between the two countries.
Those agreements not only prevent a costly buildup of missiles in the United States, but also give Washington better data through inspections and monitoring. That frees up time and resources to develop other capabilities and new military technologies.
Keeping the INF also renews good will with allies in Europe, who are directly threatened by the intermediate range missiles banned by the agreement.
Those are all clear and achievable victories for the Trump administration.
As for concerns about China’s missiles, the U.S. should pursue a new agreement with Beijing – no need to scrap one that has been a long-term success with Moscow.