Addressing the United Nations last week, President Joe Biden recommitted to arms control.
"No matter what else is happening in the world," Biden said, "the United States is ready to pursue critical arms control measures."
No matter what happens? Does he really want to make that commitment?
Russian President Vladimir Putin is again threatening the use of nuclear weapons against NATO and its allies . Meanwhile, the U.S. and allies Germany, Japan, New Zealand, and Canada have declared that they will not test direct ascent anti-satellite, or ASAT, missiles that could cause destructive orbital debris. They are assuming that maybe, if the U.S. and its allies take this action, then Russia and China (and India, Iran, or North Korea) may be shamed into terminating their own testing programs. Which is, of course, ridiculous.
The head of the Russian delegation, Konstantin Vorontsov, responded by telling the working group that civilian satellites "may become a legitimate target for retaliation." So much for the pledge being "a first step toward preventing conflict from occurring in outer space," as the U.S. delegation naively asserted the next day without any reference to this latest Russian threat.
Even if the U.S. and its allies refrain from testing ASATs that could cause destructive debris, China will not — and in fact its 2007 ASAT debris trail remains a problem to this day. Likewise, Russia's November 2021 Kosmos-destroying ASAT debris trail put Elon Musk’s Starlink and other low Earth orbit satellites at risk. It even forced the International Space Station into emergency evasion maneuvers as recently as this June.
Is there room for effective space diplomacy? Sure. But such diplomacy needs to focus on hard facts on Earth and in space, not on the deluded hopes of Biden's administration. Unilateral preemptive disarmament is not effective diplomacy. It does not put pressure on anyone. It’s just bad policy.
And the arms control concern goes beyond space.
Russian Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty violations have significantly constrained NATO’s military and diplomatic options for responding to Russian aggression. Russia has discarded its arms control commitments in favor of a massive modernization and expansion of its nuclear arsenal, dwarfing the U.S. stockpile. A reflexive reliance on arms control regimes and their deceptive assurances has made the U.S. and its allies decidedly less safe.
China remains another significant problem. While Chinese diplomats lauded "peace and development" benefits at an arms control conference in New York in August, Beijing still refuses to negotiate any limits on its nuclear arsenal. This is in direct contravention of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires good faith efforts by state parties to affect the cessation of a nuclear arms race. Beijing is not really so committed to one of its commitments — what a shock that is .
At the NPT review conference, the Biden administration put a disproportionate effort into signing a five-page document on "diversity, equity, and inclusion" regarding commitments to "mainstreaming gender perspectives into nuclear policymaking." Such sophomoric wokery, utterly devoid of meaning and disconnected from reality, exposes Biden as unserious on the world stage.
China and Russia, undaunted by gendered pronouns, will not be giving up their anti-satellite programs or their WMD programs any time soon. Rather than repeat history, perhaps team Biden should learn from it.