Stopping START

By ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the Senate risks taking America’s nuclear deterrent offline. 

On Sept. 16, during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting, I voted against ratifying START. My problems with the treaty are threefold. First, START straitjackets the United States’s missile-defense capabilities. Second, START offers no method to make sure a historically noncompliant Russian state will keep its promises. Third, the approach embodied by START is representative of an outdated and simplistic view of the United States’s position on the world stage.

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Let’s start with the treaty’s preamble, which permits Russia to turn their backs on the treaty at the slightest sign of a shift in American defensive strategy. This condition is unacceptable, and the Obama administration knows it. I offered an amendment in the Foreign Relations Committee to strike this language. The White House resists any attempt to amend the preamble. The administration argues it is a nonbinding concession to Russia. 

Russia clearly doesn’t see it the same way. They have made it quite clear they consider the preamble legally binding. This type of constraining language is not unique to the Preamble. Article V of the treaty expressly places limits on U.S. missile defense and demands sharp cuts in our nuclear capabilities.

New START offers us nothing in return, not even a robust verification mechanism that enables us to make sure Russia is keeping its promises. Instead, there is a lot of trust and precious little verification. In fact, the verification measures proposed under New START are weaker than those proposed under the original START treaty. The United States would be limited to 18 inspections per year, as opposed to at least 28 in the past. We would also be forbidden from inspecting missiles leaving Russian factories by any means other than satellite. 

Our inspection capabilities must be stronger than Google Maps. Russia has a record of non-compliance and violation under the original START treaty. The treaty also relies on the false premise that Russia is America’s only nuclear rival. This bipolar view of the world is simplistic and outdated. Even if we can trust Russia, the same cannot be said for numerous other nuclear threats such as North Korea or Iran. 

These countries have repeatedly shown hostility to the United States, or its allies, as we saw with the recent attack on South Korea. To abandon our defenses and sacrifice our deterrent in the face of increasing international belligerence is the equivalent of asking America to stare down the barrel of a gun without knowing whether that gun is loaded, and to trust the person holding it not to pull the trigger.

In arguing for this treaty, the Obama administration has tried to have it both ways. The treaty demands we reduce our nuclear strike force by specific numbers, yet the administration has only offered a vague range of estimates regarding where these cuts would take place. Even if the administration did cut the absolute maximum number of weapons it has proposed to cut, it would still fail to live up to the reductions demanded by START. In other words, instead of giving us a specific force structure, the president is repeating his healthcare playbook and telling us to wait until after we ratify the treaty to find out what’s in it.

Moreover, the administration has fallen short on the issue of modernization. Following the outage at F.E. Warren Air Force base, the administration refused to acknowledge that a 46-minute loss of 50 missiles was a problem. In a nuclear world, 46 minutes is a lifetime. As Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has argued, modernization of our nuclear force is a necessity. The incident at F. E. Warren proves this beyond a doubt. 

Most importantly, the American people deserve a full debate on the Senate floor on a treaty of this magnitude. Therefore, despite its name, I believe the START treaty should be stopped.

Sen. Barrasso is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.