July 12, 2010 | Commentary on Russia, Arms Control and Nonproliferation

Right Strikes Against START

As the Senate Armed Services Committee readies classified hearings for Wednesday this week on the technical verifiability of the new START treaty , the right wing of the Republican Party has come out swinging. The Heritage Foundation has created an independent group with the purpose of pressing their views on the treaty, Heritage Action for America, They contacted us last week about running an o-ed and here it is.

Senators John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Richard Lugar, the committee’s top Republican, reacted swiftly last week when former Gov. Mitt Romney questioned the validity of their beloved nuclear treaty. Their reaction was to ridicule Romney, demonize his positions and reject any criticisms of the treaty outright. Unilaterally ending debate is not how decisions about American national security should be made.

These gentlemen must understand that New START is larger than any one person. When presented with crucial questions of security policy, egos must be set aside. The American people expect a serious debate over this issue and the importance of the New START treaty demands it. This week’s dueling op-eds made clear there is a genuine, and extremely serious, debate over the merits of New START.

Lost in the media frenzy is the fact that many noted and respected foreign policy observers have serious concerns with the treaty. Those concerns revolve around one simple question: does New START make America safer?

Policymakers need only to look at the comments from the Russians themselves. Yury Savenko, the First Deputy Chairman of the Duma Defense Committee has been quoted as saying that, “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 country’s nuclear missile potential.” From a Russian perspective, the treaty allows them to increase the effectiveness of their nuclear arsenal.

Not only are the Russians excited about their modernization prospects, the treaty does not require any reductions in their tactical nuclear weapon arsenal. The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano says, “If we were really serious about cutting nukes we would have stuck with the more drastic limits imposed by the original treaty. [T]he treaty does nothing to address tactical nuclear weapons, something the Russians have in vast supply.… Russia holds a 10:1 advantage in tactical nuclear weapons over the United States.”

Unfortunately, Senators Kerry and Lugar have swept aside these legitimate concerns that New START will enable Russia’s nuclear capabilities to exceed that of America’s.

Perhaps even more alarming is that the treaty actually undermines America’s defensive capabilities. As Russia’s strength grows, relative to our own, and the dual threats of North Korea and Iran go unaddressed, New START restricts America’s missile defense capabilities. According to Bob Joseph, the former Undersecretary for Arms Control at the State Department, the administration has shifted from saying there are ‘no limitations’ on missile defense to there are ‘no constraints on current and planned programs.’ Given President Obama’s already scaled back missile defense program, these statements demonstrate the administrations belief that development of robust missile defense is limited by this treaty.

The subtle shift in the Administration’s rhetoric is cause for concern. While the administration may be satisfied, New START vanquishes any hope for a robust, post-Obama defense shield.

A limited missile defense policy is also contrary to the goals of the treaty. The latest Nuclear Posture Review highlights the importance of missile defense in reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons. However, as Eric Edelman, former Undersecretary for Policy at the Department of Defense points out, “New START unfortunately introduces limits and obstacles to further development of precisely these means of defending the country.”

Thus, we are left more dependent on the obsolete strategy of deterrence.

A credible argument can be made that New START empowers Russia (and, by default, other nuclear countries) and weakens America. Yet, Senators Kerry and Lugar seem more interested in sullying the messenger.

Even the enforcement of the treaty is questionable, as the provisions are embarrassingly insufficient. Paula A. De Sutter, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Verification Compliance and Implementation stated that, “The Russians can do so much under this treaty to advance and expand their strategic forces … and our ability to determine whether or not they are doing that and whether it violates the treaty is very, very low.”
Additionally, the Bilateral Consultative Commission is able to change the treaty without further Senate approval, according to former Senator Jim Talent (R-MO), because the drafters never bothered to define what they are able to change.

Although Senators Lugar and Kerry are portrayed as serious foreign-policy thinkers, their responses to criticisms of New START were intended to cut off debate. America needs to have a straight-forward debate on the impact of New START. Heritage Action for America is committed to giving Americans a desperately needed voice in this debate.

Michael A. Needham is CEO of Heritage Action for America, which launched an online petition drive to defeat New START.

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First appeared in DOD Buzz