On April 8 President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed what was supposed to be the next historic step in nuclear disarmament—the “New START” treaty. However, a major rift between the two nations immediately arose regarding the effect of the treaty on U.S. ballistic missile defense. In short, the Russians contended that the New START treaty froze current U.S. capabilities while the U.S. responded that the treaty had no effect whatsoever on missile defense.
Specifically, on April 8—the day the treaty was signed—the Russian Federation issued a statement saying: “The Treaty … can operate and be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively.” In the same statement the Russians effectively threatened to withdraw from New START if the United States increased the capabilities of its missile defense systems.
In response to the Russian unilateral statement, the State Department released a “Fact Sheet” on the same day that was just as unequivocal, but was completely opposite to the Russian statement. Titled “Ballistic Missile Defense and New START Treaty” the State Department announced the “Key Point” of the Fact Sheet as follows:
Key Point: The New START Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs or current or planned United States long-range conventional strike capabilities.
Let’s call this “Fact Sheet No. 1.” Proponents of missile defense in the United States could breathe a sigh of relief, or so one would think.
After all, the Administration had just made an iron clad promise that the New START treaty would have zero impact on current or planned development or deployment of U.S. missile defense programs. Current or planned long-range conventional strike capabilities—a clear reference to the Prompt Global Strike program—would also be unaffected by New START. The Fact Sheet even specified that “New construction of silo launchers for missile defense purposes at Ft. Greely, Vandenberg Air Force Base, or anywhere else is not limited by the New START Treaty.”
Moreover, on the very next day Secretary of State Clinton gave a speech at the University of Louisville where she made the following unequivocal statement about New START: “Now, one aspect of our deterrent that we specifically did not limit in this treaty is missile defense. The agreement has no restrictions on our ability to develop and deploy our planned missile defense systems or long-range conventional strike weapons now or in the future.”
But something must have happened on the trip back to Foggy Bottom from Louisville. For less than two weeks later, an “updated” Fact Sheet dated April 21 (“Fact Sheet No. 2”) was posted by the State Department. The “Key Point” of Fact Sheet No. 2 had changed dramatically, from an unequivocal repudiation of the Russian unilateral statement to a mealy-mouthed shadow of the Key Point from Fact Sheet No. 1. The “updated” Key Point reads:
Key Point: The New START Treaty does not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible, nor does it add any additional cost or inconvenience.
So what happened between April 8 and April 21? While some language in the original Fact Sheet is repeated in the “updated” Fact Sheet, the strong message sent by the April 8 Fact Sheet with its unqualified, unrepentant and unequivocal defense of current and planned missile defense and long-range conventional strike weapons is strangely absent.
Gone from Fact Sheet No. 2 is any mention that New START will not constrain the development or deployment of current or planned U.S. long-range conventional strike capabilities—a statement that was once apparently so important that it was included as part of the “Key Point” in Fact Sheet No. 1. The removal of this language is a mystery.
Also excised from the “updated” Fact Sheet without explanation is the emphatic statement from Fact Sheet No. 1 that New START will not limit the “construction of silo launchers for missile defense purposes at Ft. Greely, Vandenberg Air Force Base, or anywhere else ….”
To paraphrase John Adams, Fact Sheets are stubborn things. But apparently they are not so stubborn as to resist major modification over a two-week stretch.
Before it gives its consent to ratification of New START, the U.S. Senate must resolve the clear divergence of opinion that exists between the Obama Administration and the Russian Federation regarding the treaty’s effect on U.S. missile defense systems. The Secretary of State is required pursuant to 22 U.S.C. § 2578 to establish and maintain a comprehensive and detailed record of the negotiations for all treaties relating to arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament.
Perhaps a Senate inquiry into the negotiations between the Administration and the Russians will shed some light on the process and allow the Senate to help the State Department sort out its Fact Sheets? The negotiating records in the possession of Secretary Clinton would be a good place to start.