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President Trump’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty with Russia is alarming and could lead to a nuclear arms race. Signed in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the INF Treaty had eliminated U.S. and Russian short and medium range nuclear missiles.

Abraham Lincoln would have likely been against Trump sending this landmark treaty to the trash heap. For President Lincoln almost withdrew from a major arms control treaty with Great Britain during the Civil War. But thought better of it.

Back in 1817, the U.S. and Great Britain had agreed to disarm their warships on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. These were the scenes of major battles between the two nations during the War of 1812. The Lakes were seen as crucial border defense for the U.S. and Canada (then a British colony). It would have been easy to justify arming the Lakes with warships.

With the Rush-Bagot Agreement, Britain and the U.S. agreed to forego a dangerous and expensive arms race on the Lakes. This was a great decision because there were many disputes between the two nations still left to be resolved after the War of 1812. Piling on armaments could have easily sparked another war between the two.

When Lincoln became president in 1861 and the Civil War started, British-American relations saw increasing strain. Lincoln and the Union were worried about the British siding with the Confederate South. Britain was alarmed at the possibility of the Union invading Canada.

U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward said “We must finish the Civil War soon, or we shall get in war with England.” At least the two sides were not armed to the teeth on the Lakes, ready to strike.

But increasing Confederate activity in the North and on the Lakes was causing alarm. In 1864, when Confederate raiders used Canada as a base to attack St. Albans, Vermont the situation became dire. The U.S. did give Britain notice it would withdraw from the Rush-Bagot agreement. The treaty’s demise would mean each side could put warships on the Lakes freely as part of an arms buildup.

With the tensions of the time, it would have been easy to let the treaty go. But diplomats on both sides were also wary of an arms race and the troubles it would bring. Professor James Morton Callahan writes that U.S. and British diplomats realized that ‘armaments were expensive, useless and breeders of suspicion.”

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Diplomacy was better for resolving disputes. The United States decided to remain in the Rush-Bagot agreement and the Lakes have been calm ever since.

Today we would be better off maintaining the INF Treaty with Russia and crafting more nuke disarmament agreements.

As Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Associations explains “The loss of the landmark INF Treaty, which helped end the Cold War nuclear arms race, is a blow to international peace and security. Russian noncompliance with the INF Treaty is unacceptable and merits a strong response. But President Trump’s decision to terminate the treaty will not eliminate Russia’s noncompliant 9M729 missiles — and is a mistake.”

We should not panic over potential Russian noncompliance with the INF. We should get back to the negotiating table and save the INF Treaty.

But we must do more too. We should extend the New START Treaty with Russia, signed during the Obama administration, that reduces strategic long-range nuclear warheads. We should also finally ratify the Comprehensive Nuke Test Ban Treaty.

The last thing we want is an expensive arms race that will take precious resources away from fighting hunger, disease, poverty and climate change.

There is too much at stake with 14,000 nuclear weapons in the world, 90 percent held by the U.S. and Russia. We need an arms control and disarmament program to reduce this danger which threatens us all.

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William Lambers is the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace and Ending World Hunger. His writings have been published by the USA Today, NY Times, History News Network, Newsweek, The Hill and many other news outlets.

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