June 28, 2010 | Commentary on Arms Control and Nonproliferation
The Obama administration is urging the Senate to ratify the US-Russia Strate gic Arms Reduction Treaty -- but it won't release the negotiating record for "New START" to senators who've asked for it.
Denying the Senate's requests raises all sorts of suspicions about the treaty, which would reduce the US strategic nuclear arsenal by about 30 percent and cut our missile silos, bombers and submarines by nearly 20 percent.
Is there is something in the blow-by-blow transcript of the talks with the Russians that the White House doesn't want senators to see?
Some fear the administration did some winking and nodding with the Kremlin on missile defense that won't show up in the treaty language. Team Obama says START doesn't limit US missile-defense plans, but the administration's remarkable weakness so far on missile defense is cause for anxiety.
President Obama & Co. have cut budgets of many missile-defense programs and put the kibosh early in their tenure on the Bush-era missile-defense system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic, aimed at Iran's nuclear/missile programs. (It's widely believed they deep-sixed the Polish-Czech program as a sop to the Russians in their near-incessant efforts to "reset" relations with the Kremlin.)
Then there's the treaty preamble that acknowledges "the link between strategic offensive and strategic defensive armaments." This language, experts say, might limit American missile-defense programs. And, while the administration says the preamble isn't part of the treaty, Moscow said on the day of the treaty signing this spring that it will withdraw from the pact if US missile defense is expanded or improved.
Thus, Washington may face the choice of defending us from North Korea and Iran or seeing New START fall apart -- not a choice we should have to make.
Others wonder if the bargaining sessions included discussions on arms control in space. The Russians (and Chinese) are seeking to diminish (actually eliminate) US superiority on the Final Frontier. This is not only a matter of satellites and counter-satellite weapons, but missile defense as well -- since space is the best place to base interceptors to defend against incoming ballistic missiles.
Interested senators also wonder why the verification procedures in New START are less stringent than the original 1991 START it supersedes. (Especially since the Russians aren't known for their strict adherence to arms-control pacts.)
Team Obama claims negotiating records haven't been provided to the Senate before when other treaties were brought before the body for ratification. Not true: The negotiating records for the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile and the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaties were provided when requested. In both cases, it was the Reagan White House obliging Democratic senators, who had questions about the treaties.
President Obama says he plans to pursue additional strategic weapons cuts as he puts the United States on the "road to zero," over time eliminating our arsenal in hopes of creating a nuke-free world.
The notion of "no nukes" is problematic, especially looking at proliferation trends (e.g., North Korea, Iran and Syria). And tepid Senate support for New START certainly wouldn't bode well for cuts the president might seek in the future.
As a result, it only makes sense that the Senate is given access to the New START negotiating record. Indeed, precedent and good faith demand it. But even more simply: If there's nothing to hide in New START, what's the problem?
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in the New York Post