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Defence

Trump complains about cost of ‘uncontrollable’ arms race, wants talks with Xi and Putin

  • Trump complains about how much the US spends on weapons in an ‘uncontrollable’ arms race with Russia and China
  • It was unclear what prompted Trump’s tweet
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 10:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2018, 10:24pm

US President Donald Trump has proposed talks with the leaders of China and Russia aimed at halting what he described as an “uncontrollable” arms race.

Trump’s comment follows an October announcement in which he said he would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), a cold war deal with Russia to cut missile numbers.

Critics say the move, which has not been finalised, would spark a new arms race with Russia.

Trump at the time said he would build up America’s nuclear stockpile “until people come to their senses”.

In an early morning tweet Monday, the president said: “I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race.”

“The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!” he added.

It was unclear what prompted the tweet. Trump was at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina with both leaders on Friday and Saturday but only met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. That meeting resulted in a trade war truce between China and the United States.

The 1987 INF deal did not cover China and was designed to eliminate short- and intermediate-range missiles on Europe’s doorstep.

Going nuclear: 5 things to know about the INF Treaty with Russia that Trump wants to dump

A date for the US official withdrawal from the treaty has yet to be pinpointed, leaving room for a possible fix that would likely also have to involve China.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF raised global concerns, and administration officials have been engaged in an aggressive public relations campaign with European leaders and the press to explain the move.

They say it is necessary because Russia has long been violating the INF.

Trump and Putin had initially been expected to have formal talks at the G20 summit, where the INF was likely to have been a topic of discussion.

But Trump pulled the plug last week after the Russian navy seized three Ukrainian vessels and their crews in the Kerch Strait. The two did have an “informal” conversation at the summit.

What Asia thinks (but won’t say) about Trump ditching nuclear treaty with Russia

“We were waiting for the meeting between Putin and Trump, who could have together discussed the process... and sketched a rough outline for a dialogue on this topic,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in comments reported by Russian news agencies.

“But unfortunately, as you know, this meeting did not take place.”

Trump’s tweet appeared to confuse the total US Defence Department budget with America’s investment in the nation’s missile defence systems and the strategic nuclear weapons usually associated with the arms race.

The Pentagon’s budget for 2019 totals about US$716 billion, but that includes everything from health care and pay for service members to the costs of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

The arms race is just a fraction of that amount, totalling about US$10 billion this year for a wide range of missile defence and nuclear weapons programmes.

Trump’s comment was also a change of tone when it comes to the US military budget.

Until recently, the president has bragged about his increase in military spending, railing about previous administrations’ neglect of America’s armed forces. He has boasted that his administration is “rebuilding our military.”

Nuclear fears: last US-Russia arms pact could ‘simply die’

He has occasionally complained about specific programmes such as Air Force One and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but his criticism was levelled at the defence contractors and focused on demanding savings.

He has been far more supportive of the broader defence increases, and specifically has endorsed hikes for missile defence in line with a US defence strategy that targets China and Russia as key adversaries.

In a March tweet about the Pentagon budget, Trump declared that: “Because of the $700 & $716 Billion Dollars gotten to rebuild our Military, many jobs are created and our Military is again rich.”

The White House more recently announced that all Cabinet secretaries would need to cut their budgets by 5 per cent.

He said he wanted to keep defence spending at US$700 billion, which would be a cut compared with the 2019 total.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis warned against Pentagon budget cuts in a speech Saturday in California.

Referring to a recent opinion piece written by congressional leaders, Mattis said that “cutting defence will not close the deficit, and I would suggest doing so would be a disservice to troops and the American people they serve and protect, because we all know here today that America can afford survival.”

Asked about the president’s Monday tweet, Mattis told reporters he hadn’t seen it.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press