Editorializing on the Obama administration’s nuclear arms control strategy with Russia, The Washington Post wrote this Sunday:
This is an issue that really matters: The continued development and deployment of missile defenses arguably means more to U.S. security than a new nuclear weapons deal with Russia.
Indeed, the development and deployment of missile defenses by the U.S. for the protection of itself and its friends and allies around the world is an essential component of a security policy that is adapted to the circumstances of today’s world. This is because missile technology is spreading, including to countries openly hostile to the U.S. and its friends and allies, including Iran and North Korea. An incremental reduction in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arms will at best make only a modest contribution to the adaptation process.
Basically, the U.S. has three alternatives as it scans today’s global strategic landscape. It can go directly for nuclear disarmament, taking unilateral steps to show the way. Even President Obama, who has made nuclear disarmament a cornerstone of his foreign policy, appears reluctant to take this direct route. The second alternative is to multilateralize the U.S.-Soviet relationship of vulnerability to nuclear attack. This poses the problem of trying to find the proper balance of nuclear terror in a multilateral setting. This option could be extraordinarily destabilizing and rise the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons, most likely by miscalculation. By definition, it will spell the end of the goal of nuclear disarmament. The third option, and the one The Washington Post editors may now be drawn to, is to pursue more fundamentally defensive strategic postures for the U.S. and other nations. This is the best option for keeping the world as far from the nuclear precipice as possible until it is clear that a world without nuclear weapons can be achieved. This approach will permit the U.S. both to defend itself and bolster the security relationships it has with its friends and allies.
There is an irony that accompanies the pursuit of a policy that favors missile defense. While the Russians may not appreciate it at this point, it represents the best way to put the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship on a truly solid footing. The Russians appear to believe that the best way to improve their relationship with the U.S. is to threaten the U.S. with the nuclear weapons in its arsenal. It is a position that resembles in all essential aspects the strategic relationship of confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Why the Russian government wants to recreate for itself the confrontation that ultimately proved to be the undoing of the Soviet Union is, to put it mildly, puzzling. Thus, a U.S. strategic policy that pursues missile defenses may reflect a better understanding of Russia’s strategic interests than the Russian government itself appreciates.