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What Are the Problems with the New START Treaty?

At the height of the debate over Obamacare, when the White House’s leftist allies were in full panic mode, The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein accused Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) of being “willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.” Lieberman’s crime? He opposed including an expansion of Medicare in the health regulation bill. Now that the President’s signature foreign policy achievement, the New START nuclear agreement with Russia, is on the ropes, the left is again back to their hyperbolic ways. Ploughshares Fund president Joseph Cirincione told The Associated Press last week: “A delayed ratification with a close vote would be a blow to U.S. leadership around the world. People would doubt the President’s ability to negotiate other agreements.”

The histrionics are the result of a sudden surge of concerns over the treaty that started with a blast from Mitt Romney who declared the treaty “Obamas worst foreign policy mistake.” Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) attempted to shoot down Romney’s concerns, but their responses raised more questions than they answered. Romney has responded to his critics by identifying eight problems with New START that must be resolved before the Senate can vote on the treaty. We’ll focus on three today:

New START Weakens Our Missile Defense Capabilities: The Washington Post editorial board asserted yesterday that “attempts by Moscow to insert [limits on missile defense] into the treaty failed.” This is just plain false. First, even the Post admits that the preamble links missile defense and offensive nuclear weapons. The Post says that this was also true of previous STARTs. But not only is the language in this preamble stronger, and not only has the Russian leadership said that any increase in our missile defense system would be considered a breach of the treaty, but Article V of the treaty specifically limits our ability to convert ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers into defensive interceptors. The Post is completely silent about this fact.

New START Fails to Maintain Our Nuclear Forces: The Post does concede that our nuclear weapons our “in need of renewal, as are the laboratories and industrial complex that sustain it.” But then they claim, “the Obama administration accepts this priority,” which is odd since President Obama has promised not to develop any new nuclear weapons. The Obama administration is promising Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) $80 billion in spending on the “nuclear weapons complex” over the next decade, but no legislation has been produced. Any such promise would have to be passed by the House. Do you trust Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to spend $80 billion on nuclear weapons? Your answer to that question tells you all you need to know about the credibility of New START’s nuclear modernization claims.

New START’s Verification Procedures Are Inadequate: The Obama administration is telling skeptical Senators that “rejecting the treaty would leave the two countries dangerously uncertain about each other’s arsenals.” But New START’s verification terms are so weak that they add little informational value. Paula A. DeSutter, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, noted in a Heritage lecture last month: “The Russians can do so much under this treaty to advance and expand their strategic forces [yet] our ability to determine whether or not they are doing that and whether it violates the treaty is very, very low. The degree of verifiability is very low.” Worse, the Obama administration admitted in Congressional testimony last week that they do not even care if the Russians cheat on 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 outpace any nuclear arms pact the 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. This is no time for conservatives in the Senate to offer lemming-like support for President Obama’s arms control agenda.

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