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Trump-Putin summit could be a last stand for nuclear arms control

Trump and Putin against a polar view of a world map with nuclear weapons pointing at each other
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

At his press conference at the NATO meeting in Brussels, President Trump said he would discuss with Vladimir Putin both Russia's violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, originally negotiated in 1987 by President Reagan, and the potential extension of the 2010 New START accord.

Why it matters: Trump and Putin together control more than 90% of the world’s nuclear stockpile, and it's Russian nuclear weapons pointed toward the U.S. that present the greatest existential threat to its national security.

The INF treaty eliminated all American and Soviet ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. New START reduced both countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals while advancing robust inspections. Both agreements made the world safer, yet Russia may be violating the INF treaty and New START is set to expire in two years.

Why it matters: If Trump and Putin do not address these nuclear issues, their failure would not only betray the hollowness of their claims to a strong working relationship but would also pose grave risks to global security. European confidence in American support would disintegrate, skepticism about America’s willingness to stand up to Russian aggression would intensify and critical strategic pillars of U.S.–Russian nuclear stability would go up in smoke.

Joel Rubin is the president of the Washington Strategy Group and a former deputy assistant secretary of state.

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