Foreign Policy

The military agrees — we need START now

This treaty is overwhelmingly supported by the defense and national security establishment because it is a smart treaty. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, Director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency have all endorsed the treaty. Seven past and present leaders of STRATCOM wrote to Senators urging they support it. Former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger and former Secretaries of Defense James Schlesinger and William Perry have all testified extensively in favor of ratification.
 
New START is a modest treaty. It continues the progress achieved in reducing nuclear stockpiles negotiated by Ronald Reagan and signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.  It ensures that America and Russia, which between them possess 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, have a stable and transparent strategic nuclear arsenal.

But time is of the essence.

This time last year, on 5 December 2009, the previous START agreement expired. With its expiration, regular, direct inspections, a key element of arms control and stability that has been in place since the Reagan administration, came to abrupt halt. If the treaty is not ratified in the post-election session it will linger in limbo. The possibility exists that we’ll go another year without inspections, or worse yet that they will not resume at all.
 
The consequences of inaction are real: without New START’s verification regime in place, America is like a car traveling at night without headlights—the longer we continue down the road without fixing the problem the greater the possibility of terrible consequences.
 
The Senate’s due diligence has been done, now it’s time to act.

I asked myself last week what stands in the way?  The answer must be an ever more vague, disingenuous, and ill-advised raising of the bar for political support.  The very same questions that have been asked and answered about verification, and stewardship of the nuclear enterprise are brought up again and again in the face of iron clad analysis and billions of added dollars.

Some critics have attempted to muddy the waters with questions that have already been addressed. They claim the treaty restricts American missile defense, an argument that does not hold water.  Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, Director of the Missile Defense Agency testified that the treaty, “has no constraints on current and future components of the Ballistic Missile Defense System.” Frankly, their concerns have been put to rest.
 
These “red herrings” are presented wrapped in ever more demanding commitments from future legislators that no arms control treaty past or future could meet.

The military and diplomatic consensus supporting the treaty is non-partisan and overwhelming. The window for re-starting the verification regime is time sensitive and pressing.  Senators, complete your work: ratify the New START treaty.

Ret. Lt. General Dirk Jameson served as Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff of U.S. Strategic Command before retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1996 after more than three decades of active service. He is a member of the Consensus for American Security.

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