Right Strikes Out on START

Right Strikes Out on START

This week the Senate Armed Services Committee held a highly classified hearing on what is probably the core issue of the treaty: verification. Next week the committee holds an open hearing on treaty implementation. That should bring a few howls of anguish from Republicans committed to squashing the treaty, afraid it will leave the United States less safe in a dangerous world. Earlier this week, we ran a START commentary by a group created by the folks at Heritage. Today, the left — in the form of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation – swings back, arguing that START will make us safer.

In “Right Strikes Against START”, the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Michael Needham leaps to the defense of once and future presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who wrote a Washington Post op-ed last week attacking the New START treaty. Romney’s piece prompted a swift rebuttal from Republican Senator Richard Lugar, whose signature Cooperative Threat Reduction program has been protecting the United States from Russian “loose nukes” for almost 20 years. Lugar accused Romney of repeating “discredited objections” and being “unaware of arms control history and context.”

This is not the type of criticism an aspiring presidential candidate wants to hear, particularly coming from a statesman of Lugar’s stature. But because Romney littered his op-ed with talking points conjured up by Heritage, Needham really had no choice but to try to push back.


The gist of Needham’s complaint is that the “many noted and respected foreign policy observers [who] have serious concerns with the treaty” are being ignored. He then cites the fears of a Heritage analyst, three former George W. Bush administration appointees, and a former Republican senator who just happens to be a Heritage distinguished fellow. These are all great Americans, to be sure. But citing their criticisms of New START is a bit like citing professor Noam Chomsky’s criticisms of the Bush administration – there is a slight selection bias problem.

In reality, the remarkable thing about New START is the wide-ranging bipartisan consensus in support of the agreement. For starters, Secretary of Defense (and former Cold Warrior) Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen, all the Service Chiefs, STRATCOM Commander Gen. Kevin Chilton, and Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly strongly support the treaty on the grounds that it limits and allows the monitoring of Russia’s still enormous nuclear arsenal.  Keep in mind that these military leaders, who have access to all the pertinent intelligence information and analysis, assumed their current positions under the Presidency of George W. Bush.

In addition to our nation’s military leadership, former secretaries of defense James Schlesinger and William Perry, former secretaries of state James Baker and Henry Kissinger, and former national security advisors Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley have all testified that the Senate should give its advice and consent to ratification of the treaty. Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Frank Carlucci, Chuck Hagel, John Danforth and many other prominent national security experts also believe that the treaty strengthens U.S. security. These aren’t woolly-headed academics or naïve idealists. These are men and women who have devoted their lives to protecting the security of the United States.

Needham’s recycled substantive objections do not hold much water, either. For example, he suggests the treaty is a bad deal for the United States because it will allow Russia to modernize its nuclear forces.  Yet without New START, the United States would have far less insight into Russia’s modernization programs than it would with the treaty.  Moreover, the treaty retains and augments the U.S. ability to “upload” warheads relatively quickly on missiles and bombers, a capability that the Russians can never hope to match.

The concerns expressed about New START not restricting tactical nuclear weapons are not persuasive.  On the contrary, they actually make the case for New START even stronger.  Failure to ratify New START would make it impossible to reach a subsequent agreement with Russia on tactical nuclear weapons. That’s why former Republican Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, whom the Wall Street Journal called conservatives’ nuclear Yoda, agreed under oath that ratifying New START is “obligatory” and a precursor to reducing tactical nukes.

There are also complaints that the Obama administration agreed to restrictions on missile defense schemes that U.S. military leaders believe don’t make sense for U.S. security. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has joked, conservatives would no doubt complain if New START restricted missile defenses launched from cows. The fact is that there is nothing in the treaty which limits the U.S. ability to pursue robust missile defenses against limited threats from Iran or North Korea, which is exactly what U.S. missile defenses are designed to do. In fact, according to Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, “The New START Treaty reduces constraints on the development of missile defense programs in several areas.”

Needham is right that New START should be judged on whether it makes the United States safer.  Our entire military leadership and countless former Republican and Democratic statesmen say that it will. They back it because the treaty’s legally-binding limits and monitoring and verification provisions will cap the growth of Russia’s deployed forces and give us an essential window into their composition and location that we haven’t had since START I expired last December.  And the more stable and predictable the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship, the better off our allies are – which explains why so many of them support New START.

If New START is not ratified there will continue to be no verifiable limits on Russia’s nuclear forces and U.S. inspectors will remain in the United States and not be on the ground in Russia inspecting Russia’s nuclear arsenal.  As STRATCOM Commander Gen. Kevin Chilton put it, this would be “the worst of both possible worlds.”

>Kingston Reif is the Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. Travis Sharp is a Research Associate at the Center for a New American Security. They blog about nuclear weapons policy at Nukes of Hazard.


Join the Conversation

Most of the republicans just want the cold war back. The whole concept of reducing the number of weapons pointed at Americans is anathema to them.

“…the remarkable thing about New START is the wide-ranging bipartisan consensus in support of the agreement. ”

The remarkable thing about the American Recovery And Reinvestment Act was the wide-ranging bipartisan consensus in support of the legislation, and look how that turned out.

normal when the war was choice in all other possibility

Good Afternoon Folks,

To my Liberal friends, who like myself ‚support this treaty, be weary of this many supporters with opposing political backgrounds and opinions. What is the common thread here?

Altruistic Patriotism is not a condition that these folks seem to be infected with.

Many of these people are now out of government have made a profitable retirement career out of peddling influence and trading on their names. In short where does the money come in.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised that the old adage of follow the money is not applicable here.

ALLONS,
Byron Skinner

How exactly does this treaty make us safer? Russia is below these levels due to budget constraints. So the US “building down” to Russia’s levels makes us safe, really?

Here is a thought experiment. If we are still a nuclear cold war enemy with Russia is it not dangerous to reduce launcher levels to 700 with such a large portion on SSBN’s? And if we are not nuclear cold war enemies why are we negotiating reduction treaties with our “friend”? Or did I miss the treaty with France and the UK.

This whole treaty is a farce, left wing organizations have ALWAYS believed nukes are bad and serve no purpose and would unilaterally, totally and completely disarm the US, even back during the height of the Cold War.

They play this game that they really care about deterrence and national security but they believe the era of the US being a superpower should end. I just wish they would be honest about it. Just wait if this treaty is ratified they will immediately start saying we don’t even need this many nukes let’s cut even further.

Whether the left wants America to be unilaterally disarmed is a moot point since the right’s economic policies and culture of entitlement and complete denial are making sure it happens whether anyone wants it to or not.

Really now? Because last time I checked the left was the one who had created the current culture of entitlement and accelerated Bush’s deficit spending to new levels.

William, because Bush’s veto pen didn’t work? Or am I mistaken in that there were 2/3 majority Dems in office? You can blame Congress all you want, but that really doesn’t explain why Pres. Bush didn’t veto a bill until the Dems took over.

Was the Medicare bill passed under Dem control? No, I don’t think so. Were the Bush tax cuts (not paid for BTW) passed under Dem control. Again, not to quibble, but I don’t think so. Again, as the Dems didn’t control both houses of Congress with 2/3 majority, where were all of the vetoes? Was the former President unable to utilize the veto? Apparently.

Check your facts again before you spout out this nonsense.

Of course to many history began yesterday or just a few years ago. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have an unfunded liability of 47 TRILLION dollars those were all Democrat programs. LBJ’s welfare state has supposedly cost 10 trillion but I guess that was to eliminate poverty, how’s that working.

And by the way Bush passed, with overwhelming Democrat support, Medicare Part D (prescription drugs) and yes it was a bad program but Obama and the Democrats wanted a program twice as big. Republican hands are far from clean on spending but they still look like Scrooge McDuck compared to the democrats.

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