Editorial: After summit, U.S. and Russia must take sincere steps toward nuclear disarmament

For the moment, we wish to value the fact that the heads of the United States and Russia have met face to face and taken a positive stance toward holding negotiations for nuclear disarmament. If the relationship between these nations, which had degenerated into a so-called “new Cold War,” can improve, the recent meeting could be meaningful for easing tensions.

The New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia, is set to expire in 2021. If negotiations for extending the treaty period don’t take place before this agreement expires, there is the risk that these two nations will engage in an escalating arms race.

Since the New START Treaty was signed in 2010, no new negotiations for reducing nuclear weapons have been held over the past eight years. This situation is flawed, and raises pointed questions about the responsibility of the heads of the United States and Russia, the two nuclear superpowers. However, given the series of comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump about nuclear issues, progress moving forward will be put to the test.

Prior to taking office, Mr. Trump tweeted that the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability. Thus, we couldn’t help but have anxiety about his qualifications as president. After Mr. Trump was elected, he also vowed that the United States would not be bested by other nations in its scale of nuclear force. Underlying his statements is the idea of the United States maintaining its superiority as a nuclear superpower, a position we cannot abide.

Regarding the New START Treaty, Mr. Trump has also indicated that he wants to review its contents, calling the agreement “one-sided” and “unfair.” This treaty obliges both nations to limit, equally, the number of nuclear weapons that they deploy. If Mr. Trump moves ahead with negotiations for nuclear arms reduction with Russia, we would like him to reconsider the sentiments he has previously expressed.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has made some controversial statements, too. At one point, seeking to break the impasse of the political turmoil in Ukraine, he said that he was ready to put Russia’s nuclear weapons on alert. And in response to Mr. Trump’s hard-line remarks, Mr. Putin made a Twitter post saying “Our military capability for our strategic nuclear weapons must be strengthened so that these weapons can penetrate any kind of Missile Defense (MD) system.”

These two leaders should not be stressing the token “accomplishment” of their summit while thoroughly affirming the presence of their nuclear arsenals.

According to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the top five nuclear nations are obliged to make efforts for nuclear disarmament. But because they have shirked this obligation, a majority of nations in the international community have taken the alternative of establishing the nuclear weapons ban treaty. The United States and Russia should be working on nuclear disarmament with more sincerity.

The nations of the European Union have watched the U.S.-Russia summit play out with little enthusiasm. One concern is that Mr. Trump has muddied the issue of Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election. In fact, he seems to have accepted Mr. Putin’s story without skepticism, simply to trumpet his diplomacy with the Russian leader. Top U.S. lawmakers of both the Republican and Democratic parties have intensified their criticism of the president, accusing him to being too passive toward Mr. Putin.

The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 is one reason for the current climate. The EU nations cannot accept that the change of border was made by armed force, but Mr. Trump has avoided intervening in this issue. The more his actions and statements support Russia, the more the gap between the United States and the EU nations may grow.

Mr. Trump has said that a better relationship between the United States and Russia would be good for peace in the world. This is a fair point. But the two nuclear superpowers must not move in a direction of simply maintaining parity in their nuclear arsenals. Along with the rest of the international community, Japan must persistently call on the United States and Russia to pursue full-fledged efforts for nuclear disarmament.

(Originally published on July 18, 2018)