That the United States should reflexively seek to remain in arms control agreements, even if they do not contribute to U.S. national security, is a bad idea in national security.
The Trump administration released a new presidential memorandum on August 20, 2019, that details its new policy on the “Launch of Spacecraft Containing Space Nuclear Systems.” From the title, some may assume this policy concerns the placement of nuclear weapons in space, which would violate the Outer Space Treaty, but in fact, it is a move to restructure how the U.S. government regulates and approves space-based nuclear power systems—particularly nuclear propulsion systems.
The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), colloquially known as the “Ban Treaty,” is hailed by supporters as the beginning of the end for nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons states, including the United States, have criticized the treaty on its shortcomings as a legal instrument for disarmament. Beyond this criticism, the United States has done little to engage with the Ban Treaty or its supporters. But ignoring the Ban Treaty is a bad idea that will exacerbate the divide between nuclear and non-nuclear states and could lead to a dangerously uneven pace of international disarmament.
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, preceded by wide debate, is enjoying a honeymoon of sorts. Domestically, it received strong support and close to full funding while internationally, it has received strong support from allies. However, controversy over the NPR may be just around the corner. There needs to be strong bipartisan commitment to nuclear infrastructure and delivery system modernization as well as arms control.