Editor's Note: Below is a complimentary research note written by National Security analyst Lieutenant General Dan Christman. To access our Macro Policy research please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The topic du jour in the ever-shifting arena of U.S.-Russia relations: whether President Trump will agree to extend the Obama-era NEW START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia that reduced and capped operational nuclear warheads of the two sides.
Russian officials from their foreign ministry and leaders from Moscow think tanks have been present on "for the record" Zoom calls over the last ten days, offering views on a range of policy issues - from Syria and Ukraine to U.S. election interference.
Most of the commentary was predictable - like blaming the deterioration in U.S.-Russia relations on President Obama's 2014 "coup" (their words) in Kiev that ousted Russian-favorite and loyalist Victor Yanukovych.
More helpfully, however, the Russia commentators also weighed in on the NEW START issue. They made persuasive arguments on what should happen before the February 2021 expiration of the agreement: simply extend it, as the deal allows.
Recall, Vladimir Putin for two years has offered just this; Trump has hedged on the extension, however. "It’s a bad deal," he claims, and he wants the Chinese included in any new nuclear arrangement; Secretary of State Pompeo evidently pushed this idea with his Chinese counterpart last week during their meeting in Hawaii.
The Russian response on the chances of the Chinese joining?
The equivalent of the Bronx reply, "Fuggedaboutit!"
So, what does Trump do?
Arms control between Washington and Moscow has provided a source of stability since the "SALT I" nuclear accord was signed in 1972. However, as one of the Russian officials stated last week, the U.S. has "been striking blow after blow at the architecture of arms control" for two decades - since Bush43 withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002 and Trump backed out of the INF Treaty last year; the president is now threatening the same action with the "Treaty on Open Skies."
The Russians have a point: it's been a recent and consistent U.S. "STOP," not START, to arms control.
There's no predicting President Trump, especially on foreign policy.
Encouragingly, the two sides are slated to meet in Vienna - today, in fact - to talk NEW START; also encouragingly, if Trump extends the deal, he'll have some political cover: he's unlikely to be criticized by Joe Biden since the former VP would do the same thing if elected.
On the other hand, NEW START was Obama's achievement; it’s therefore inherently suspect in the West Wing. And there’s no telling how the president will react to Moscow sentencing former Marine Paul Whelan last week to 16 years in prison for “espionage.”
My guess? Trump will agree with Putin to extend the deal.
The president will likely find some way to condition the acceptance on starting follow-on talks that incorporate some of his demands to rectify NEW START’s shortcomings.
But regardless, this give-and-take with Vladimir on an important strategic issue will tell us whether Trump is serious about initiating his version of a needed "Reset" with Moscow - but never to be called that, of course.
The Vienna meeting should give us a clue.
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ABOUT LIEUTENANT GENERAL DAN CHRISTMAN
LTG Dan Christman, USA, Ret. serves as Hedgeye Potomac Research’s Senior National Security Analyst, providing deep insight into international affairs and national security. Most recently, Dan provided strategic leadership on international issues affecting the business community for organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce. Dan’s long history of leadership includes his service as a United States Army lieutenant general and former Superintendent of the United States Military Academy. He served in highly visible and strategically important positions and four times was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime service award.
He also served for two years as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he traveled with and advised Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He was centrally involved during this period with negotiations between Israel and Syria as a member of the Secretary's Middle East Peace Team. Further, Christman represented the United States as a member of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.
Graduating first in his class from West Point, Christman also received MPA and MSE degrees in public affairs and civil engineering from Princeton University and graduated with honors from The George Washington University Law School. He is a decorated combat veteran of Southeast Asia, where he commanded a company in the 101st Airborne Division in 1969.