After more than a year of negotiations on a follow-on to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev will sign the agreement this week. And while many arms control advocates are jubilant about a 30 percent reduction in U.S. and Russian nuclear reductions, larger questions linger. Foremost, will the treaty be adequately verifiable, will it impose limitations on US defense modernization, and will it reduce the likelihood of aggression and war? Heritage has the answers.
Arms control advocates frequently assert that the fewer nuclear weapons there are, the safer we all will be. This is not so. Pursuing reductions in a haphazard way can lead to increased instability and heighten the likelihood of a nuclear war. There are three issues that are important to consider:
Verification: The Russians have a long and well documented history of violating arms control agreements, and the White House clearly lost ground on the issue of verification. When START expired in December, the U.S. had to abandon a monitoring station for Russian weapons at the entry and exit portals in Votkinsk, Russia. By agreeing to leave this station, the U.S. will be unable to monitor the production of Russias highly destabilizing RS-24 mobile multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Open sources indicate that this missile will be the mainstay of Russian strategic forces by 2016.
Nuclear Modernization: Some arms control advocates insist that the U.S. has a robust nuclear modernization program. This claim is simply inaccurate. The truth is that Americas nuclear infrastructure is rapidly aging, in deep atrophy, and is losing its reliability and effectiveness. The U.S. is not producing new nuclear weapons, and its ICBM force is shrinking and not being modernized. In contrast, Russia and China are engaged in a major modernization effort. On December 16, 2009, 41 U.S. Senators voiced their concerns and signed a letter of opposition to a new treaty that does not include specific plans for U.S. nuclear modernization as stipulated in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.
Missile Defense: It is absolutely imperative that a new START agreement not undermine our post-Cold War defensive posture by linking offensive weapons with missile defense. But reports indicate that the treaty does exactly that. While a White House press statement claims that the treaty will have no constraints on missile defense, the Kremlin seems to be under the opposite impression. In fact, Russian major general Vladimir Dvorkin says Moscow will scrap the treaty if the U.S. pursues missile defense: If, for example, the U.S. unilaterally deploys considerable amounts of missile defense, then Russia has the right to withdraw from the agreement because the spirit of the preamble has been violated.
The real danger now is that the Obama administration is codifying with Russia the old adversarial balance reminiscent of the relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the Cold War. The Heritage Foundation has argued that the U.S. should instead have used the treaty to move Moscow away from a nuclear posture based on threat of nuclear Armageddon and intimidation and toward a fundamentally more defensive posture. Unfortunately, the Administrated has squandered this opportunity.
Signing arms control treaties to score a public relations stunt and a photo opportunity in pursuit of unrealistic getting to zero pipe dream is bad policy. The Senate should keep this in mind when considering the new Treatys ratification.