In the final season of the TV show "24," an idealistic president finds herself sacrificing her principles one by one in an attempt to preserve a "peace process." She eventually manages to hammer out a flawed treaty, but can't bring herself to sign it. In the real world, the Obama administration's overly idealistic pursuit of a reduction in American and Russian stockpiles of nuclear arms has led it to actually sign a woefully flawed treaty. The goal may be worthy. The pact is not.
The first major problem with the treaty: It would definitely reduce the number of American weapons, but it wouldn't necessarily trim the number of Russian ones.
That's not how the administration sees things, of course. It claims that the new pact would reduce the number of strategic warheads each country could deploy by 30 percent. And yes, if ratified by the U.S. Senate, New START would set a limit of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, fewer than the 1,700-2,200 allowed under the existing Moscow Treaty.
But there are loopholes large enough to fire an intercontinental ballistic missile through.
"If Russia exploits the legal lapses in New START, there is no actual limit in the new treaty on the number of strategic nuclear warheads that can be deployed," writes the New START Working Group in a recent paper for the Heritage Foundation. "The number of Russia's strategic nuclear warheads would be limited only by the financial resources it is able to devote to strategic forces, not by New START warhead ceilings - which would be the case without this new Treaty."
And the Russians are making no secret of the fact that they won't cut their forces.
After the pact was signed, Gen. Nikolay Makarov, chief of the Russian General Staff, insisted, "The Strategic Rocket Forces will not be reduced. The forces will be armed with modern mobile missile launchers."
Furthermore, under New START, U.S. conventional warheads would be counted toward the treaty's warhead and launcher limits, but tactical nuclear weapons wouldn't be counted. That's a problem, because Russia enjoys a 10-to-1 numeric advantage over the United States in such weapons, according to the 2009 report of the bipartisan Congressional Strategic Posture Commission. So the United States could find itself facing an actual nuclear missile gap.
But we'll still have something the Russians won't, right? A tested, effective and expanding missile defense system? Well, not quite.
As the Working Group explains, "New START contains many provisions relating to missile defense (including legal prohibitions) and could set the stage for further limitations without the advice and consent of the Senate." That's certainly how the Russians see things.
Gen. Yevgeniy Buzinskiy says that Russia wouldn't hesitate to withdraw from the new treaty if the U.S. tries to expand our European missile defenses. "The sides agreed that the present strategic defensive arms are not undermining the viability and effectiveness of their strategic offensives forces. This makes it possible for us, in case the Americans increase their strategic ABM system, to claim that they are not observing [the terms] of the treaty."
To get the Russians to sign this START, the Obama administration scrapped plans to build missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, sites that the Bush administration had negotiated long and hard to establish. So, it's safe to assume that we won't be installing any new defensive positions, out of fear that doing so would cause the Russians to pull out of the treaty.
International agreements can help maintain peaceful relations between nations. But there's no question that maintaining a strong and capable American military is the best way to keep the peace.
New START would take us several steps in the wrong direction. It would make America more vulnerable, not less. When asked to ratify the treaty, senators should recognize it for what it is - a nonstarter.
Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.
First ran on the McClatchy Wire Service