Congressional sources say that the Obama Administration has pulled out all the stops in its lobbying campaign to secure Senate approval of the New START Treaty by warning Israel’s supporters in Congress that failure to approve the treaty will undermine Israeli security by causing Russia to reduce its support for measures to pressure Iran. The Administration has been aided by the National Jewish Democratic Council, which issued a statement on Thursday that resembled Chicken Little’s panic about the sky falling: “Can anyone deny that Russian cooperation is essential to ensuring a nuclear-free Iran? Can anyone deny that not passing START will be a dramatic blow to U.S.-Russian relations – and a disaster in terms of our Iran policy? Where is the outcry?”
This begs the question of why a treaty that the administration argues benefits both countries equally is perceived by Moscow to be such an advantageous step that it would withhold cooperation on Iran if it does not receive the benefits of the treaty. Moreover, Moscow is unlikely to agree to another round of U.N. sanctions on Iran anyway, even if New START is approved by the Senate.
Intelligence officials also have assisted the administration by telling Congress that if the treaty is not ratified, then intelligence-gathering satellites now dedicated to missions over Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran would be redeployed to monitor Russian military facilities. But this line of argument exaggerates the importance of the 18 annual inspections allowed under the treaty. Paula DeSutter, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation, noted that: “Eighteen spot inspections a year is not going to fill the gap left by inadequate NTM [national technical means] capabilities. If we want better coverage of Russia’s strategic threats, we are going to have to launch more satellites.”
One would think that the satellites would be assigned to gather intelligence on the highest priority threats, but apparently the administration is willing to indulge in such scare tactics to mobilize support for New START. If the administration really does perceive Russia to be a greater threat to American lives than Iran or the ongoing carnage in Afghanistan and Iraq, then it should rethink New START altogether.