New START: It's not about Reagan

Certainly President Reagan was a tremendous Cold War president.  His decisive leadership ultimately resulted in the end of the Cold War and a massive reduction in nuclear weapons.  But this in no way means the former President would have supported New START today.  To say so is disingenuous at best.

Still, treaty proponents have resorted to this tactic for nearly eight months.  Instead of debating the treaty on its merits, they regularly cite established Cold War era Republican luminaries.  The misleading invocation of President Reagan is nothing more than heavyweight name-dropping.  It is time for treaty proponents to start addressing the issues and stop with the ad hominem attacks and hyperbolic claims of nuclear terrorism.

Unfortunately, Mr. Budowsky’s only attempt to address “legitimate concerns” was to say that they’ve been “addressed at length.”  If he truly believes this treaty is “critical,” then his defense is wholly inadequate.
After talking with dozens of Senate offices, I can assure him that many concerns remain on both sides of the aisle.  Senators and their staffs have serious concerns about the linkage between offensive and defensive weapons, the restrictions on missile defense and non-nuclear weapons, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, weak verification provision and more.

The most tangible problem with the treaty is its restrictions on our missile defense capabilities.  From the very beginning, the Russians have sought to limit our defensive ability.  Their post-signing unilateral statement makes clear they believe this treaty provides them that opportunity.  That is why Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) supported Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) amendment, which was ultimately weakened in committee.

Despite Russian insistence, the administration has argued vigorously that the treaty would not restrict their missile defense plans.  While that argument may fly in a cable sound bite, it doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when it comes to extended debate.  If a time comes when we need to expand our missile defenses, either qualitatively or quantitatively, the treaty will bind our hands.

Perhaps the most important issue though, is the treaty’s inadequate verification measures.  It led Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the vice chair of the Senate’s intelligence committee, to announce his “strong opposition” to the treaty.  He said after hearing from “intelligence professionals,” he is positive that we “cannot reliably verify” this treaty.

Had Mr. Budowsky read Sen. Bond’s excellent floor speech, he would have known that serious concerns remained unaddressed by the administration.  Even referencing a veritable who’s who of establishment figures cannot address those concerns.

Which brings us back to President Reagan.  He believed strategic defense was essential, which is why he rejected a treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev that would have eliminated nuclear weapons and missile defense.  In a multi-polar, proliferated world, the desire to maintain a robust missile defense is even more salient.

President Reagan would also ask us to “trust, but verify.”  In the context of New START, there are multiple meanings.  First, as Sen. Bond mentioned, the treaty’s verification provisions are wholly inadequate, especially considering Russia’s previous cheating.

Second, it’s important for Senators to verify the treaty itself, and investigate any potential side deals and agreements.  They cannot do that without access to the negotiating records, which the administration has steadfastly refused to reveal. Again, “trust but verify.”

For eight months, New START has suffered from a lack of transparency and genuine debate.  If the administration were so confident that this treaty was good for America, why are they so hesitant to come forward and discuss the issues?  Instead, they’ve sat quietly behind the scenes, making promises for nuclear modernization funding that they have no power to deliver.

On Nov. 2, Americans sent a powerful signal that they were tired of business as usual.  They are tired of backroom deals and the unwillingness to address substantive concerns.  Senators and the administration must rise to the occasion.

Tripp Baird is the director of Senate relations for Heritage Action for America.