Ambassador John Bolton’s encyclopedic knowledge of the history of arms control deserves the respect of all senators, who in all likelihood will be asked to consider granting consent to the ratification of the NEW START arms control agreement with Russia later this year. By paying close attention to the details of this long and complex arms control treaty with Russia for reducing strategic nuclear launchers, delivery systems and warheads, Bolton is raising very important and disturbing questions about NEW START and its negative implications for U.S. national security in a forthcoming article for National Review.
He points out that New START’s underlying assumption that there needs to be symmetry between the U.S. and Russia regarding the number of strategic nuclear warheads on both sides is dangerous because the U.S. has international security obligations and commitments that far exceed Russia’s. He also understands that Russia may be on the cusp of a rebound in the quality of its strategic nuclear force, while the U.S. is on a path of steady decline. Finally, Bolton points out that the verification provisions of the treaty, being scaled back from what was contained in the expired arms control treaty New START is to replace, may not be adequate.
New START, as Bolton points out, also imposes limits on U.S. missile defense options. This is despite repeated Administration promises to the contrary. Language in the preamble to the agreement commits the U.S. to applying a logic that will dictate a reduction in overall U.S. missile defense capabilities that corresponds to the reduction in Russian strategic nuclear forces. Under President Obama’s commitment to nuclear disarmament in the long term, this logic transforms into the illogic of reducing U.S. missile defense capabilities to zero in order to preserve the viability of a Russian strategic nuclear force that theoretically would no longer exist.
In the end, New START is about the U.S. reducing its strategic nuclear force to preserve parity with a struggling Russia, specifically in the absence of any significant defensive capabilities. Bolton’s analysis, however, makes it difficult to avoid concluding that the Obama Administration is already quietly positioning itself to abandon the principle of parity with Russia in a context where the U.S. will simply decide not to keep up. From this perspective, the Obama Administration will opt for a policy of minimum deterrence in the future, as recommended by the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2009. Nevertheless, it is to be expected that it will attempt to hide its minimum deterrence agenda from the Senate during the ratification debate on New START. Accordingly, it will be only be following New START ratification that the Senate will start to hear arguments from the Obama Administration that the U.S. has no need to maintain strategic nuclear parity with Russia or some broader combination of nuclear-armed nations that could confront the U.S. Ambassador Bolton sees the emerging transition from U.S. strategic superiority, to parity with Russia under New START and ultimately to inferiority toward Russia or some combination of nuclear-armed powers. It is regarding this transition where the Senate needs to focus its attention prior to the ratification of New START.