Morning Bell: Obama’s False START

Conn Carroll /

Obama and Medvedev sign new START

Just hours before President Barack Obama unveiled his Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that the Kremlin maintained the right to withdraw from the new START agreement if the United States pursued its missile defense program. Late last night, the White House responded to Lavrov’s statement, insisting: “The Russian statement does no more than give the United States fair notice that it may decide to pull out of the New START Treaty if Russia believes our missile defense system affects strategic stability. We believe it doesn’t.”

But the Russians couldn’t care less what the Obama administration believes about missile defense. The Russians have made it exceedingly clear that Kremlin compliance with the treaty will evaporate at any point when Moscow decides our missile defense program threatens them. And the Russians have already said repeatedly that they believe it does. There is a good reason that neither Russian President Dmitri Medvedev nor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have uttered a word about the treaty in public. As New York University professor of Russian Studies and History Stephen Cohen told MSNBC just seconds after Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed the agreement: “Politically it is an unstable treaty.” Why should the U.S. Senate ratify a treaty that Russia maintains it can exit at any time?

President Obama’s New START has other problems as well. The Russians have a long and well documented history of violating arms control agreements. By focusing intently on numerical arms reduction, it is unclear what ground Obama gave up on verification. There is also legitimate concern that the President has not yet met requirements under U.S. law (sec 1251 of the 2009 Defense Authorization Act) to adequately address the modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons and infrastructure before entering into a new arms control agreement. But President Obama’s NPR promises not to develop any new nuclear weapons. That’s an odd promise since Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea are all doing so.

Taken together, New Start, the NPR and next week’s Nuclear Security Summit all raise significant questions about the soundness of the administration’s nuclear strategy. The President has made it clear that he sees the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as the core of U.S. nuclear policy. But maintaining an effective nuclear force that protects the United States and its allies and combating proliferation and nuclear terrorism are not incompatible, as the President’s strategy suggests. The last administration made significant strides in countering proliferation, including establishing the Proliferation Security Initiative.

It is President Obama’s nuclear strategy that is contradictory. By having a smaller, less reliable, less credible nuclear force, the President’s strategy will increase the incentive for nuclear proliferators and the reliance of other states on nuclear weapons — the world will become a more, not less dangerous place. As The Wall Street Journal reminds us today: “To the extent that more states haven’t gone nuclear, the reason has been U.S. power, not a treaty. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Canada could build a bomb in a week, but instead they have long relied on America’s nuclear umbrella to deter aggressors. A credible U.S. nuclear deterrent is the world’s greatest antiproliferation weapon.”

The right U.S. defense strategy would emphasize a modernized, credible nuclear force; comprehensive missile defense; and robust conventional forces, as well as vigorous efforts to prevent proliferation, illicit trafficking in nuclear technology and materials; and combating terrorism. This will provide for a more robust and effective deterrence for the post-Cold War World.

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