Trust, but don’t bother to verify. That is the Obama Administration’s latest message about how the United States of America ought to manage the most fearsome weapons known to man.
There are severe deficiencies in the New START arms control treaty. In particular, the means for verifying that Russia is actually in compliance with the provisions of the treaty are grossly inadequate. Recent testimony by an Obama Administration official on this issue is stunning: if Russia cheats, America won’t terribly mind because we’re in a “good position” anyway.
On Tuesday, three senior U.S. officials tried to sell this absurdity to the Senate Armed Services Committee, but some of the Senators didn’t buy it:
[Senator John McCain]: “General Chilton [commander of U.S. Strategic Command], do you agree with the unclassified statement in the State Department Verification Assessment that ‘any cheating by the Russians would have little, if any, effect?’
[General Chilton]: Senator McCain, I do agree with that…
[Senator McCain]: There’s no logic to your statements… to say that [cheating] has ‘’little if any effect’, then we’ve been wasting a lot of time and money on negotiations.
Chilton’s response is disturbing on its own, but during the same hearing, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller added that if we detect cheating, the U.S. would raise the issue for discussion in the new, treaty-created Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC). The BCC will be responsible for negotiating and resolving concerns among parties and will not be overseen by the Senate.
New START fundamentally fails to set up verification measures that are on par with previous arms treaties:
- Inspections of Russian facilities will be reduced in number;
- Our ability to monitor the telemetry of Russian test flights will be weakened; and
- We will be unable to verify the number of deployed nuclear weapons on their ballistic missiles.
In short, New START will not help America prevent or detect even large-scale Russian cheating.
There is no need to rush New START through Senate ratification—especially in light of the treaty’s numerous problems and the failure of the Obama Administration to adequately address them. Instead, as Heritage experts Kim Holmes and Baker Spring argue that a “protect and defend” strategy would be a better way of achieving arms control. Primarily defensive, such a strategy would discourage the real problem: the proliferation of nuclear weapons.