In his most recent op-ed, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, asks why there is a rush to pass New START, a strategic offensive arms control treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation signed this April in Prague.
Romney rightly observes that the treaty “deserves a careful, deliberative look by the men and women America has just elected.” If the Administration and Senate leadership push for a vote on New START during the lame duck session, the Senate would not have time to adequately evaluate it, especially newly seated Senators who need time to become educated on the content of the treaty. In addition, Romney points out two other major flaws in New START. One of the most significant concerns is limitations on missile defenses.
Interestingly enough, in a response to Romney’s article, Senator John Kerry (D–MA) states, “Nothing in this treaty restrains the United States from pursuing a robust missile defense strategy to protect our country and our allies.” As President Reagan would say, this is just not so.
Limits on U.S. missile defense options in the treaty are both specific and substantive. Most significant is the fact that the Preamble of the treaty establishes a link between strategic offensive and defensive arms. Also, Paragraph 3 of Article V prohibits conversion of offensive strategic missile launchers to launchers of defensive interceptors and vice versa. These conversions have been done in the past and might be required as an option for the President in case of a future crisis.
The verification provisions of New START are inadequate and far less stringent than in the original START. This is worrisome because as numbers of nuclear weapons go down, the benefits of cheating increase. And the Russians have cheated on every arms control agreement the United States has ever signed with them.
Even more importantly, New START is biased in favor of Moscow. The United States is the only party that has to limit its delivery vehicles. Russia could actually increase numbers of delivery vehicles under the treaty’s counting rules. The treaty also limits U.S. conventional strategic capabilities, which would be counted under the treaty limits.
On top of this, Russia has a manifold advantage over the United States in tactical nuclear weapons. These weapons are easily conceivable and transportable and thus present a much higher proliferation risk than strategic offensive weapons. In the past, Russia used its advantage in tactical nukes to intimidate NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic into canceling the ballistic missile defense plans on their territory.
With limitations on U.S. ballistic missile defense options, limitations on U.S. conventional global strike capability, and exclusion of tactical nuclear weapons in the treaty, there is no leverage left to achieve elimination of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons. Russia will surely not willingly give up its unilateral advantage in exchange for getting to a “nuclear zero” fantasy when others (e.g., China, North Korea, and Iran) are sure not to follow.
Co-authored by Michaela Bendikova.