A Better Way to Arms Control


A Better Way to Arms Control

Jul 21st, 2010 3 min read
Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D.

Distinguished Fellow, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center

Kim R. Holmes, a distinguished fellow, oversaw the Foundation's think tank’s defense and foreign policy team for more than two decades.

Supporters of the New START treaty want you to believe that 1.) All who oppose it are nuke-loving troglodytes; and 2.) Its an "all or nothing" deal, the only way to a world without nuclear weapons.

Theyre wrong on both counts. Critics of New START do not oppose all arms-control pacts. But they worry that this treaty can lead to more instability in the world, not less. They think there is a better way to achieve arms control. And they are disappointed that the Obama administration negotiated a treaty pegged to yesterdays problems.

Today, the greatest nuclear threat comes not from Russia, but from smaller countries, like Iran and North Korea, with little regard for arms control. The administration insists that U.S. ratification of New START will "set an example" for Iran and North Korea. But the treaty doesnt apply to them and will have absolutely no effect on their nuclear-weapons programs. Irrelevant to the main nuclear threats facing America, New START is actually a throwback to the Cold War, when the great nuclear menace was the Soviet Union.

The pact also fails as a breakthrough mechanism for reducing Russias nuclear might. Experts predict Russias strategic forces will drop to 1,000 warheads, which is below the 1,550 level of accountable warheads in New START, with or without the treaty. It does, however, legally lock the U.S. into more reductions. AsYury Savenko, first deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, observed: "Whether the Americans want it or not, they, after adopting the New START treaty, will give us a breathing space that we can use to reform and modernize the countrys nuclear-missile potential."

So, if Russias nuclear arsenal is getting smaller anyway, but its leaders believe locking us into reductions gives them time to improve it, why would the White House make New START the centerpiece of its arms-control strategy?

For two reasons: First, as a grand head fake. Focusing on U.S.-Russia arsenals calls to mind the great arms-control achievements of the Cold War. It makes for great theater. It also takes the spotlight off the administrations inability to stop Iran and North Korea, and possibly terrorists, from gaining nuclear weapons.

Second, the treaty becomes a vehicle for improving relations with Moscow. Russia wants us to sign because 1.) It makes Russia look like our equal; 2.) It forces us to reduce our nuclear weaponry; and 3.) It creates a link between strategic offenses and missile defense - Moscows bete noire.

But what do we get out of it? For the privilege of dismantling our nuclear arms, we open ourselves - for the first time since we discarded the old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - to Russian arguments that U.S. missile defenses could violate an international treaty.

This is laid out in the treatys preamble. It states that both nations recognize "the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms," linkage that becomes "more important" as nuclear arms are reduced. The words "more important" imply future negotiations and treaties.

Treaty preambles are binding provisions. This preamble commits the U.S. to the principle that our missile defenses can be limited in exchange for Russian arms reductions.

You wont find that in the Moscow Treaty currently in force (and which remains in force if New START is not ratified). Why? Because Russia had no right whatsoever to make claims on our ability to defend ourselves.

There is a better way to do arms control: A "protect and defend" strategy. It would enable both the U.S. and Russia to reduce their operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads below Moscow Treaty levels, yet leave missile defenses unconstrained. It would also permit nuclear weapons to be configured and deployed so as to enhance these defenses without threatening retaliation against population centers.

Also, instead of signing a treaty that would limit our missile defenses, we should establish a mutual commitment to cooperate in fielding effective missile defenses against strategic attacks.

We also should negotiate bilateral treaties with Russia and others to counter nuclear-armed terrorism - an offshoot of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

Lastly, over time we could invite other countries to join the U.S. and Russia in a global stability treaty that emphasizes strategic defenses, not offensive nuclear arms. In a world in which numerous countries acquire nuclear weapons, studies such as Heritages Nuclear Games II show that strategic defenses, not offensive arms treaties alone, provide real stability.

If New START is ratified, we will be saddled with a bad treaty that locks in all the wrong things. There is a better path to arms control, one that is fundamentally defensive, that does not freeze the balance of nuclear terror, nor make the world more dangerous. Such a strategy would target the real danger we face: The proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Kim R. Holmes, a former assistant secretary of state, is a vice president at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Washington Times