Senate Should Not Rush to Ratify START

Ariel Cohen /

Obama and Medvedev

The New START treaty imposes significant limitations on U.S. ballistic missile defenses, and new limitations continue to be revealed as the treaty is scrutinized. The newest restriction—which has not yet been addressed by the Administration or proponents of the treaty—is a limitation on test-target missiles and their associated launchers, which are used to test U.S. ballistic missile defense systems. Testing is an essential element of the research and development needed to produce the best missile defenses. Consequently, such limitations are unacceptable.

When viewed together, it is clear that the treaty’s Preamble, the Russian unilateral statement on missile defense, and remarks by senior Russian officials suggest an attempt by Russia to limit or constrain current and future U.S. missile defense capabilities by threatening to withdraw from the treaty should the U.S. expand its missile defenses “qualitatively” or “quantitatively.”

There are grave concerns about the treaty in the Senate, and Senators have expressed reservations. Furthermore, there are reports that U.S. negotiators actually told the Russians that the U.S. had no intention of deploying strategic missile defenses in Europe. Only a careful review of the negotiating record can set the record straight.

Beyond missile defense, there are also concerns about the inadequacy of the verification regime. The degree of verifiability is very low. The treaty also fails to account for Russia’s enormous tactical nuclear arsenal, which might be up to 10 times larger than America’s. Also troubling is the complete exclusion of mobile Russian rail-based ICBMs and launchers from New START language. In their absence, the Russians could deploy an unlimited number of these systems.

In addition to these drawbacks, what is clear regarding New START and missile defense is that a pattern is emerging: the slow surfacing of specific provisions within New START that limit U.S. missile defense options, followed by explanations and excuses from the Administration. Considering the rising threat from Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, not to mention North Korea’s existing threat, limiting America’s ability to defend itself should be a non-starter.

This treaty solidifies Russia’s role as a dominant nuclear power by putting the Russian arsenal on par with ours. It is a classic example of nuclear diplomacy going awry, and will only lead to Russia seeking further concessions down the road. Once that is understood, it will become clear why this treaty is wrong for the U.S.

Cross-posted at CFR.org.