July 27, 2010 | Commentary on Arms Control and Nonproliferation

Scare Tactics on New START

If the Senate doesn’t ratify New START, proponents of the arms-control agreement fear, then … well, the world will come to end.

The latest warning came from Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation that advocates a nuclear weapons-free world. “A delayed ratification with a close vote would be a blow to U.S. leadership around the world,” he told the Associated Press, “People would doubt the president’s ability to negotiate other agreements.”

More pressure to just “sign the treaty so we can purge the world of nuclear weapons” will be fueled by the premiere this week in Washington and New York of “Countdown to Zero,” a documentary on the threat of nuclear weapons. As one reviewer notes, the “film asserts that the United States and Russia, the entities with the most weapons by far, should lead the other nuclear countries toward a total disarmament initiative.”

The sudden surge of concern over the treaty started with a blast from Mitt Romney, who declared the treaty “Obama’s worst foreign policy mistake.” Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar  have both been cheerleading the treaty, as the administration quickly counterattacked. They were later joined by Sen. Carl Levin. But rather allay the concerns, the exchange only raised more questions.

The administration quickly dispatched Defense Secretary Robert Gates to calm Republican concerns. Apparently, that didn’t work. In the latest round of hearings, after U.S. officials stated they weren’t concerned that the Russians cheat on implementing arms control, Sen. John McCain declared, “Well, what this brings to the casual observer’s mind, general, is if it doesn’t have any consequences if they do any cheating, what’s the point in having a treaty?”

In a further sign of panic, there are reports of furious backroom dealings, negotiations, and threats of retaliation from the administration to get enough Republicans to sign on to approving the treaty.

All the pressure to blow past the critics, cut backroom deals, and get the treaty ratified ought to raise huge red flags. New START has had less than half the number of hearings that treaties are normally subjected to. And the pace for approval certainly is trying to outdo any nuclear-arms pact the U.S. Senate has ever considered. Not only is the speed with which it is being pushed through unprecedented, the administration continues to withhold key documents, including the treaty negotiating record.

The arguments that rejecting the treaty will mean disaster bear scrutiny as well.

First, there are real alternatives to effective arms control. Former Assistant Secretary of State Kim Holmes recently wrote that 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 yesterday’s problems.”

Second, there is research to suggest that this treaty might actually result in more nuclear proliferation and increase the likelihood of nuclear conflict.

The irony is that the lemming-like support for Obama arms control may actually turn the “countdown to zero” into the “countdown to zero-hour.”

James Carafano is Deputy Director of The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of The Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in Big Peace