Why Obama Failed From the START


Why Obama Failed From the START

Nov 29th, 2010 3 min read
James Jay Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute

James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.
Throughout World War II, Walter "Beetle" Smith fought on two fronts. As Dwight D. Eisenhower's chief of staff, he battled Ike's prickly subordinates like George "Blood and Guts" Patton as well as the Germans. It gave him hundreds of sleepless nights and a bleeding stomach.

At war's end, Beetle yearned for recognition, promotion and a little rest. Instead, Truman ordered him to Russia as U.S. ambassador. Upon hearing of the appointment, one of Ike's friends declared, "Serves those bastards [the Soviets] right."

The president picked Smith because he wanted a tough U.S. negotiator in Moscow. And Beetle made it crystal clear to the Kremlin that Washington was no patsy. "We are fully conscious of our own strength," the general informed the Soviet foreign minister. "It would be misinterpreting the character of the United States to assume that because we are basically peaceful ... [we are] weak, unwilling to face our responsibilities."

That was then. That is not now.

As President Obama entered arms control talks with Russia, he had anything but a record as a tough negotiator. His Nobel Prize, awarded even before he redecorated the Oval Office, created the expectation that accommodation was the name of the game. He'd be willing to give up a lot to "earn" it after the fact.

His record on international deal making was dismal. His dash to Copenhagen, Denmark, to land the Olympics for Chicago yielded nothing. His return visit there to work out a global warming agreement came to nothing as well. Then, trying to curry favour with Moscow, he threw Czech and Polish missile defenses under the bus. In return he got ... nothing.

With a track record like that, the administration's poor job negotiating the New START nuclear agreement comes as no surprise. But it gives the Senate a good reason to reject the treaty: Lawmakers should not reward the president for negotiating a lousy deal, nor should they feed Vladimir Putin's growing conviction that America is now a pushover.

The treaty gives Moscow everything it wants. While Moscow's arsenal of strategic weapons will shrink in number, the Russians remain free to upgrade and replace those arms with more advanced and capable systems. Their tactical nuclear warheads, used to intimidate their neighbors, remain unencumbered -- even though their 10,000 tactical nukes give them a 10-to-1 advantage over NATO. The icing on the cake for Moscow? The treaty hamstrings U.S. efforts to build a comprehensive missile defense.

In the end Moscow got it all: parity with the U.S. arsenal and the guarantee that Moscow's neighbors would have to live nervously and permanently in Russia's nuclear shadow. New START assures that nukes will remain the cornerstone of Russia's military and foreign relations strategy.

Meanwhile, Obama got nothing but liabilities.

The treaty is a deliberate act of American self-weakening. We cut more weapons than the Russians. In fact, the Russians are authorized to build more launchers. And, since Obama has declared he won't replace our aging nuclear arsenal (while the Russians have said they are going to build new weapons), our arsenal's qualitative advantage evaporates.

And even the treaty's most ardent defenders admit its verification procedures are less rigorous than what would have been achieved merely by extending procedures in the Moscow Treaty and the original START. The new deal forces us to trust more, and verify less.

Worse, it cripples our bid to field an effective missile defense. Paragraph nine of the preamble gives Russia a veto over future programs. The Obama administration denies that language is binding; the Kremlin says it is. This is an agreement?

Article V prohibits converting offensive systems into defensive systems. (No debate there, but a future president might want this option.) Other provisions inhibit missile defense testing.

The treaty also establishes a "Bilateral Consultative Commission." Its broad mandate could allow it to impose additional restrictions on our missile defense programs. Finally, the treaty requires the U.S. to share missile test data with Moscow. That information could facilitate Russian research into how to defeat our missile defenses.

We give up a lot in this treaty. What do we get in return? Help on Afghanistan? Iran? North Korea?

No, all we get is to say we're buddies with a country that routinely crushes freedom within its borders and bamboozles this administration in its negotiations.

Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Examiner