The Obama Administration is preparing for a next round of negotiations on nuclear weapons with the Russian Federation. This is likely going to a difficult and unsuccessful endeavor.
On Wednesday, The Heritage Foundation hosted the event “After New START: Next Round?” featuring Ambassador Henry Cooper, former director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) in the George H.W. Bush Administration; Mark Schneider, senior analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy; and Heritage’s Baker Spring. This event was a major contribution to the discussion about negative consequences of the Obama Administration’s arms control agenda and its meaning for the U.S. strategic posture.
The Administration has been under a condition to start a next round of negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons systems. This condition was imposed by the Senate’s resolution of ratification to the New Strategic Arms Control Treaty (New START) in December 2010. Spring anticipates that the Administration will consider any future treaty—no matter how lopsided in Russia’s favor—acceptable to the Senate, because the Administration plans to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons anyway. The latter became clear in the newly released Strategic Defense Guidance, which states that “it is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force.” Unfortunately, this guidance is based on wishful thinking rather than a sound response to the strategic environment.
New START set a base for negotiations of the future arms control treaty—and the Administration managed to give away a lot of the leverage it could use to pressure the Russians to reduce their tactical nuclear weapons. Not only has New START allowed the Russians to build up their nuclear forces—which they have been doing, according to the Department of State—it has also degraded the verification regime that would help to understand Russia’s modernization program. Schneider pointed out that these concessions will make reaching a meaningful agreement on tactical nuclear weapons (Russia possesses thousands, while the U.S. has hundreds left in Europe) even more difficult.
Russia has drawn linkages between starting negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons and addressing U.S. conventional weapons in Europe, unilateral withdrawal of U.S. weapons from Europe, U.S. space weapons, and U.S. missile defenses. In addition, due to the variety of tactical nuclear weapons in the Russian arsenal and Russia’s history of arms control treaty violations, the United States would have to negotiate an unprecedentedly intrusive verification regime if it is going to achieve a reduction in the disparity between the two countries in this category of weapons. The United States currently does not have any leverage to do this.
Ambassador Cooper noted that the United States has not, unfortunately, taken full advantage of its 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Its legacy continues to impede U.S. sea-based and space-based missile defenses. He also pointed out similarities between the strategic systems atrophy during President Jimmy Carter’s era and today. During the Carter era, the strategic build-up started following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but the Obama Administration has no effective plans for nuclear modernization. In addition, the Obama Administration’s nuclear weapons policies are cloaked in secrecy, while during the Carter and especially Ronald Reagan years, Americans came together and agreed on what is required to keep America free and safe. The revitalization of U.S. commitment to strategic modernization and missile defense is essential to keep the United States and its allies safe in the future.