The current debate over the ratification of the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) unfortunately has fallen victim to the divisive politics that characterized the November mid-term elections. Advocacy groups and some members of the Senate on both the Left and the Right have staked out positions that in some cases defy common sense and in others, contradict the actual provisions of the Treaty. Some of the claims of those opposed to ratification are as follows:
1. "The Russians remain free to upgrade and replace" their strategic arms with more advanced and capable systems."
Under the terms of the Treaty (Art. V, Paragraph 1) both parties are free to "modernize " or replace" strategic systems. This in fact is one of the conditions cited by Republican Senator John Kyle (R-AZ) as necessary to overcome his opposition to the treaty. President Obama has committed to a several billion dollar expenditure for this purpose.
2. " Russia's inventory of tactical (battlefield) nuclear warheads are not restricted."
True but the U.S. and NATO inventory is not restricted either. The treaty is a "Strategic Arms" reduction treaty and stands on its own. Tactical nuclear weapons remain a subject for future treaties.
3. "The treaty hamstrings U.S. efforts to build a comprehensive missile defense."
Not true. Art. III, Paragraph 7 clearly states that "Interceptor missiles ( for defensive purposes) are not considered missiles subject to the treaty." Claims that treaty provisions restricting the use of strategic launch vehicles for defensive systems somehow restricts the development of defensive systems themselves is tortured logic. At the November, 2010 NATO meeting in Lisbon, the member states unanimously approved plans to implement a European missile defense system.
On the other side, the "disarmament community" on the Left exaggerates the consequences of a failure to ratify the treaty in terms of the international nuclear proliferation problem. James Carroll's column in the Boston Globe is typical.
The failure to ratify the treaty would represent ". . . a final defeat of the hard-won international consensus that nuclear weapons are in a category apart, requiring a steady movement, however incremental, from limitation to reduction to an ultimate abolition. "
The fact that "nuclear weapons are in a category apart" has been accepted since their first
and only use against Japan in 1945. The Cold War deterrence concept of Mutually Assured
Destruction (MAD) made this starkly clear. Nuclear weapons have been the subject of
numerous treaties from Nixon era SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) I and II to START
which expired in December 2009 and which NEW START is intended to replace. While
a failure to ratify New START would be a set back, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) remains in effect and is routinely extended.
Carroll's doomsday hand wringing continues:
"Once nuclear weapons are accepted as normal armaments, their accumulation will skyrocket everywhere. Once the international covenant toward abolition is abandoned, dozens of nations will join the nuclear club. Inter-state war will be inevitably genocidal, and outbreaks of non-state mass violence will invariably launch irrational escalations. Once more, the self-extinction of the human species will be at issue."
The New START agreement is not about "abolition", it is about inventory reduction. The
objections raised are not specifically concerned with reduction of delivery systems and
warheads but because of differences in current inventories the formula is somehow more
advantageous to Russia.
The idea that nuclear weapons will ever be "accepted as normal armaments" or that the
failure of this particular treaty would create such an outcome defies reason. The Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty is virtually universal. Four nuclear weapons states are not
signatories but the idea that "dozens" of the 189 member states would abandon
their commitment to not seek nuclear weapons because this treaty failed is unrealistic.
Other rogue states like Iran and North Korea might seek nuclear weapons capability
but few would have the technological or financial resources. Even Iran and North
Korea are seeking first to guarantee their security from real or imagined non-nuclear
security threats and to enhance their ability to influence regional politics. North Korea is
also attempting to use its nuclear status to offset its domestic economic crisis. These
states know that the first use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance would bring about
Also the idea that New START is vital to the progress towards a nuclear free world is
mostly wishful thinking. The simple fact is that there can be no progress towards such a
goal within the current and foreseeable future international political context.
Until the issue of the status of Kashmir between India and Pakistan is resolved , these
nuclear weapons states are not going to give up their weapons. Israel, which has fought
four wars for its very existence and faces the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran cannot
give up its nuclear arms. China, ever wary of Russia and eager to attain military parity
with the U.S. remains outside the nuclear weapons reduction regimes past and present
and has shown little interest in participating.
Nuclear weapons have been a fact of life for sixty-five years and the recognition that
their use is unacceptable has survived several major wars (Korea, Viet Nam, Arab-Israeli, Afghanistan -Soviet Union, Afghanistan-U.S.). The major nuclear issues now are nuclear proliferation to additional rogue states and the possibility of nuclear weapons or materials in some form falling into the hands of terrorists. These possibilities have nothing to do with the START agreement between Russia and the U.S.
whose weapons inventories are secure.
NEW START essentially reduces U.S. and Russian nuclear inventories to 700 delivery
vehicles, 800 launchers and 1550 warheads; more than enough to overwhelm any
nuclear attacker. The treaty also is an extension of the previous START ratified in 1991
and which expired in 2009. As such it continues the regime of mutual inspections and
verifications which are essential to mitigating any serious future tensions between the
two parties. The evaluation of the treaty should be made in the context of post Cold-
War reality. Russia is not the former Soviet Union. While it is far from a U.S. style
democracy and seeks to politically dominate the region of the former USSR, it lacks the
competitive and hostile ideology which characterized the socialist/capitalist eighty year
conflict. Russian President Medvedev attended the recent NATO meeting and was
willing to cooperate on a number of security issues. NATO’s General Secretary Anders
Fogh Rasmussen said; “We have agreed together on which security challenges NATO
nations and Russia actually face today. What’s most significant is what’s not on the list:
Ratifying START is consistent with NPT obligations to reduce nuclear armaments and
thus enhances the credibility of that regime. NATO members are unanimous in their
support of the treaty. It is their hope that cooperation with Russia in this instance will
lead to progress on reduction of tactical nuclear weapons currently deployed in or near
NATO countries. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and all the U.S. uniformed military
leadership support the treaty as well as former Secretaries of State from Democrat and
Republican administrations. The treaty provides no major break throughs in terms of
international or U.S. nuclear security nor does it adversely affect that security. It is an
incremental step in a decades long effort to reduce and control nuclear weapons.
However not ratifying would create a host of other political problems that complicate the
U.S./Russia relationship and would detract from U.S. credibility and leadership in
international nuclear issues.