Not a New START, but a bad START

As the Senate returns to take up business before the fall elections, the Obama administration will argue that one of the critical issues in the senators’ inboxes will be ratifying the U.S.-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Actually, there’s no need for the Senate to rush consideration of the arms-control pact. It should take its time and examine this agreement closely before signing us up to a treaty that will last 10 years.  


But careful scrutiny is even more important because New START is rife with problems that don’t advance U.S. interests.  

For example, to meet the New START-mandated warhead limits of 1,550 per side, we must eliminate almost 80 more warheads than Russia does. In other words, the reduction applies mostly to us. 

It doesn’t end there, either.  

America also needs to get rid of as many as 150 delivery vehicles (e.g., missiles and bombers) to reach the 700 limit stipulated in the pact. Oddly, Russia can add more than 130 platforms under New START. 

Besides the peculiarity of allowing Russia to build up, the drawdown on our side could have an effect on our ability to fight conventional wars using these weapons in places such as the Korean Peninsula.

In addition, U.S. conventional warheads on ICBMs are counted toward the treaty’s nuclear-warhead ceiling. This could limit the deployment of “Prompt Global Strike” — an ICBM armed with a non-nuclear payload that could be used globally on short notice — as well as future counter-space weapons.  

Then there’s missile defense. The White House insists the treaty doesn’t affect it, but the Kremlin’s take is strikingly different, stating: “[START] can operate and be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile-defense capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively.”

 This isn’t good news, especially considering nuclear North Korea continues to develop long-range missiles and near-nuclear Iran will have an ICBM as soon as 2015. Plus, while treaty limitations may match this administration’s (misguided) missile-defense vision, the question is whether New START will hamstring future White Houses in dealing with yet-to-be-determined threats

Analysts are also worried about the modalities of verification, saying they’re weaker than the first START. This deficiency is especially troubling considering many believe Russia is already in violation of other arms control treaties.  

Moreover, New START doesn’t get at another atomic affair, that of Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal. Moscow may have as many as 15,000 battlefield nukes, trumping Washington by as much as a 10:1 margin. 

Plus, nuclear proliferation trends aren’t positive. In 1997, there were just six nuclear states; today, there are nine declared (or assumed) nuclear weapons nations with a tenth moving in that direction. Others might have undeclared programs, such as Syria and Burma. 

Indeed, critics point out that Russia isn’t the most proximate nuclear threat to our security: It’s actually wildcards like Iran and North Korea, which aren’t touched by New START.  

Wouldn’t it have been better to spend the diplomatic time and effort on addressing these matters, where we’ve seen no progress so far, rather than on an inking a treaty some have called “arms control for arms control’s sake”?

 These realities also beg at least two important questions: Will a U.S. drawdown undermine American strategic deterrence, a bedrock of our defense policy in the nuclear age, encouraging other potential rivals to bolster their current or future arsenals? 

And in a world that is arming — not disarming — could these major reductions in our nuclear force create (or feed) an image of American weakness and decline, leading to misperception and miscalculation — and conflict?  

Obama sees it differently, believing U.S. leadership on disarmament (even unilateral) gives us greater moral standing in battling proliferation. But will others follow? Looking around the world, there’s no evidence of “denuclearization discipleship” so far. 

Now, there is nothing wrong with wanting to eliminate nuclear weapons, the most horrific arms ever known to mankind. But we can’t put our security in others’ hands. Any new nuclear treaty must ensure that taking us down the road to “zero” isn’t giving the high road to those who would do us harm.

Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.