"The United States and Russia remained at odds, continuing military exercises along the borders of NATO, undermining the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), upgrading their nuclear arsenals, and eschewing arms control negotiations." -- It's Two Minutes to Midnight, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
I, for one, was much disappointed by the Trump-Putin summit -- but not for the reasons most others were. I was not hoping that Trump would punch Putin in the nose or insult him or declare new sanctions. Nor was I hoping he would cancel the meeting.
Although Trump's performance was characteristically tawdry, I don't share the views of those who thought the meeting was a disaster because Trump didn't throw a tantrum over Putin's alleged order to attack American democracy by allegedly "interfering" in the 2016 election by allegedly hacking into the email accounts of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Allegedly. There's a word that's gone from the establishment media's lexicon.
That allegation has been the subject of many claims and indictments, but claims and indictments are not evidence -- and that's what some of us still await: evidence. Amazingly, some who regard themselves as liberals and progressives think that a demand for evidence is itself evidence that the demander is on Putin's payroll. I've stated my lack of fondness for Putin, which may explain why I have yet to see ruble one.
Anyway, I was disappointed in the summit because it apparently gave no great urgency to what should be the priority by the standard of security for all the people of the world: the two powers' alarming arsenals of nuclear weapons.
I acknowledge that this subject was not completely absent from the two men's public statements. (I can't say what went on behind closed doors.) In their public pre-meeting sit-down Trump, to his credit, did express dismay that the US and Russia account for 90 percent of the world's nuclear bombs. Okay, good. And during the post-meeting news conference, he repeated it: "We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries."
Unfortunately, he brought this up in order to criticize the Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged "collusion" with Russia's alleged rigging of the 2016 election in Trump's favor. He followed his "90 percent" statement with: "It's ridiculous. It's ridiculous what's going on with the probe." That was better than nothing, but the threatening nuclear arsenals deserve their own spotlight and should not be relegated to a reason to disparage Mueller's dubious investigation. Putin also cited, but more vaguely, his and Trump's deadly arsenal: "As major nuclear powers, we bear special responsibility for maintaining international security."
What concerns me is not that nuclear weapons were ignored at the news conference, but how they were talked about. Note:
Putin: "It's crucial that we fine-tune the dialogue on strategic stability and global security and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction... It [the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has renounced] effectively ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program and strengthens the nonproliferation regime."
And Trump: "We also discussed one of the most critical challenges facing humanity: nuclear proliferation... I think that the United States now has stepped forward, along with Russia, and we're getting together and we have a chance to do some great things, whether it's nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping [it], have to do it, ultimately that's probably the most important thing that we can be working on."
Nuclear proliferation usually means big powers stopping smaller or aspiring powers (such as Iran, which has not sought nukes, and North Korea) from acquiring or holding on to nuclear bombs. It typically does not mean Russian and US (or British, French, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, or Israeli) bombs. But, to complicate matters, Trump said before he went to Helsinki for the meeting: "I will be talking about nuclear proliferation because we are massively -- you know what we've been doing? We've been modernizing and fixing and buying, and it's just a devastating technology. And they, likewise, are doing a lot."
So maybe they talked about their own nuclear arsenals. But if they did, why didn't they tell us? And if they didn't, why not?
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, "At the beginning of 2018, the US Defense Department maintained an estimated stockpile of 4,000 nuclear warheads for delivery by more than 800 ballistic missiles and aircraft." This was a reduction from the 5,113 acknowledged in 2009. The Bulletin continued:
"Most of the warheads in the stockpile are not deployed, but rather stored for potential upload onto missiles and aircraft if so decided. Many are destined for retirement. We estimate that approximately 1,800 warheads are currently deployed, of which roughly 1,650 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at bomber bases in the United States. Another 150 tactical bombs are deployed in Europe. The remaining warheads -- approximately 2,200, or 55 percent of the total -- are in storage as a so-called hedge against technical or geopolitical surprises. Several hundred of those warheads are scheduled to be retired before 2030.