Yesterday, Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, testified about New START before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “There are no limitations in the treaty that affect our plans for developing missile defense.”

Problem is O’Reilly’s statement ignores the lessons of unintended consequences – or in this current case, I suspect “intended consequences.” The unaffected “plans” he mentioned are, as he also indicates, “current plans”, which do not include all or even the most effective possibilities for truly effective missile defenses…such as space-based defenses.

For example, recall that the ABM Treaty was not supposed to limit our theater defenses—except that it did politically, as repeatedly illustrated by Paul Warnke’s testimony in the 1980s. As a former ACDA Director and SALT Negotiator, he repeatedly claimed that the limited Patriot improvements proposed by then-Sen. Dan Quayle (R-IN) (and supported by Ted Kennedy among others) would “violate the ABM Treaty” by enabling a limited ballistic missile defense, even though it clearly could not reasonably be covered by the Treaty. Warnke’s claim held more sway in the House which every year voted to zero out Quayle’s initiative. But the US Senate, kept allowing a half-funded improvement program to limp along which eventually ended up providing a limited (and untested I might add, because inadequate funding slowed development) capability barely in time to be used in the 1990 Gulf War.

Thanks to the ABM Treaty there were only 2 or 3 Patriots available for testing when Saddam went into Kuwait on 2 August 1990. Most if not all Patriots fired during the Gulf War were produced because of a courageous decision to turn on the production lines, circumventing the normal acquisition process. The Patriot PM who made this courageous decision retired as a Colonel, by the way—proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.

And of course no research was permitted on space-based defenses after the ABM Treaty, until Ronald Reagan was prepared to take on the political naysayers in 1983. Even the Bush 43 administration, which most admirably showed political courage in withdrawing from the ABM Treaty, shrank from advocating even R&D on the most cost-effective way to build a truly effective global defense. We can expect that the negotiating record and/or coded/nuanced language in the “New START” Treaty will make life difficult for future leaders if they choose to build the most effective defenses.

Ambassador Henry F. Cooper is former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative organization.