A handshake between American and Russian Presidents (Picture: PA).
By Defence Analyst Christopher Lee
In the next couple of days, US President Donald Trump is expected to announce he is giving six months' notice that he will be pulling out of one of the most important nuclear weapon peace treaties ever signed between the old Soviet Union and the United States.
Mr Trump wants the option to use nuclear weapons and has ordered the people who do these things down in the Texas Panhandle to make him some low yield nuclear warheads. But can they fix it for him?
They’ve said yes. Why is small beautiful for the President? The warheads would not be the giants on the current US intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has ordered nothing bigger than Hiroshima-Nagasaki sized explosions (just a quarter million people killed with the two bombs 'Little Boy' and 'Fat Man' in August 1945) and the first of the Trump warheads would be ready for loading by the end of 2019.
In the complex business of arms control, there are four things to get right: a treaty limiting numbers of warheads; distance missiles can fly; a system to verify compliance and for each state that signed and a ratification process - no point Mr Trump signing a treaty if Congress fails to agree.
The treaty on Mr Trump’s mind is the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed by President Reagan and the USSR’s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987 and ratified by the Senate in 1988.
Its purpose was to get rid of missiles with ranges between 500 and 1000 kilometres - but not sea-launched missiles. By the first full verification report in 1991, about 2,300 missiles had been scrapped. It was considered a success inasmuch that it was the only treaty in town, even if China had never signed up for it. This was a problem for Russia rather than for the US, as Chinese missiles are in the range of Russia.
And then came Donald Trump.
Mr Trump uses the bald eagle approach to defence and foreign policy; he knows what’s in his diet from distances others cannot glimpse.
It is a grotesque Presidential style that so many wise owls who might have persuaded him to back off at the first sniff that he was going to swoop on the INF Treaty have gone from the White House.
In October 2018, Mr Trump said Russia was cheating on the treaty so the US were pulling out. Mr Putin said let’s talk it over. Trump said there was nothing to talk about. Putin brings us up to date. He said if the US walked out Russia would retaliate.
We are now in the state of a new arms race. The US needed to update its missile system. Russia had already started on Mr Putin’s.
The other nuclear warhead states - Israel, North Korea, the UK, France, India, Pakistan - say little and sign nothing. There is a difference with what was there before Mr Trump.
When Mr Trump ordered low powered warheads from the good people of the Panhandle he had asked a nuclear warhead power game question that others had avoided: if the US has around 10,000 nuclear warheads, how come they cannot be used in places the country gets beaten up by conventional soldiers? Answer Mr President: devastation and escalation. Too powerful.
So build some very small weapons aim them at, say, Syria. Shock and awe? You ain’t seen nothing yet, as President Reagan would have said. Even drop one on Damascus and the people in Wisconsin won’t notice a thing.
The warning of nuclear conflict. Not quite. More the warning of miscalculation – the most common cause of warfare.
Could be that the bald eagle school swoops on Saturday. Then what? Ask Mr Putin.