The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the U.S. and Russia is a throwback to the Cold War and does not address the greatest threats the U.S. faces today, namely ballistic missile attacks by rogue nations, according to Sen. Jim DeMint (R–SC). Far from addressing emerging threats, the treaty would actually prevent the U.S. from defending against them and lock the U.S. into the old Cold War adversarial relationship with Russia of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)—or “balance of terror.”
By taking on the logic of advancing the old paradigm of MAD in the New START treaty, DeMint is tackling a complicated, often overlooked and crucial aspect of the debate. As depicted in the classic movie Dr. Strangelove, the U.S.–Soviet standoff during the Cold War hinged on the MAD-based relationship for each superpower to threaten the population of the other with nuclear annihilation. This paralyzing relationship privileged strategic offensive nuclear weapons in national security strategy and discouraged against developing and deploying robust missile defenses. This Orwellian view was based on the notion that missile defenses are “destabilizing.”
DeMint asks why the U.S. is again considering a treaty that takes us down this same path when the security landscape of today is far different than it was during the Cold War. Rather than the Cold War standoff between the two superpowers, a more complex world exists today, with multiple nuclear powers and emerging nuclear state wannabes that could threaten the United States with a nuclear-armed ballistic missile. While relying on MAD was wrong during the Cold War because Russia never accepted its logic in the first place, it is certainly wrong today considering the emerging nuclear landscape.
In addition, the roles of the U.S. and Russia are vastly different on the world stage. Today, the U.S. provides extended nuclear security guarantees for more than 30 countries all over the world. This is in stark contrast with Russia, which has far fewer international obligations and has repeatedly used its nuclear arsenal for purposes of intimidation. For example, Moscow repeatedly threatened to deploy Iskander short-range and nuclear-capable missiles to Kaliningrad to target U.S. allies in Eastern Europe in response to U.S. plans to deploy defensive missile shields in Europe to protect the U.S. homeland against limited missile threats from Iran.
DeMint points out a little noticed event that occurred during the height of the negotiations. Illustrating Moscow’s view of U.S. missile defenses and its preference for MAD, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stood up during the height of the negotiations and said that Russia must begin to develop new offensive strategic nuclear weapons to counter U.S. defenses. Putin was very upset because the U.S. might begin to feel “secure” or “safe” by increasing its missile defense capabilities.
In other words, Putin wants to retain the ability to threaten Americans with nuclear annihilation, and he wants the U.S. to feel unsafe. U.S. missile defenses are a major obstacle to his vision. Putin added that “the problems of missile defense and offensive arms are very closely linked.” This language mirrors the preamble language in the New START treaty related to missile defenses:
Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.
Before this passage found its way into the New START treaty, the Administration appeared to respond in kind in the Ballistic Missile Defense Review report by specifically stating that our missile defenses are not intended to affect the “strategic balance” with Russia and are not meant to have the capacity to cope with Russian missile attacks. Clearly, the Administration is referring to preserving the nuclear balance of terror and vulnerability to nuclear attack.
DeMint is rightly concerned that this treaty locks the U.S. into an adversarial relationship unfit for the threats of today and akin to the Cold War. Like DeMint, The Heritage Foundation has argued that President Obama should have used U.S. leverage and engaged Russian counterparts with a long-term and energetic diplomatic campaign to convince Russia that it is in Russia’s interest to have a non-adversarial relationship with the U.S. This would be reflected in defensive strategic postures on both sides.
President Obama wants to “reset” relations with Russia and seeks a world without nuclear weapons.
Russia’s Prime Minister wants Russia to posture its strategic forces to threaten the U.S. with nuclear attack.
Obama is responding with “I am okay with that.”
No wonder that Senator DeMint is concerned.