‘Do it for Dmitry’ Is Poor Policy

Ariel Cohen /

In his latest Los Angeles Times article, Doyle McManus identifies President Obama’s attempts to sell New START, the nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia, to the Republicans in the Senate as “increasingly desperate.”

Indeed, the Administration’s arguments for ratifying the treaty have evolved from claiming that the accord is a modest treaty that will enhance U.S. security to asserting that the consequences of rejecting New START will be dire. Most recently, the President has shifted his argument to one of obliging his favorite Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev.

In a statement at the NATO summit in Lisbon, President Obama said, “President Medvedev has made every effort to move Russia in the right direction. It’s also important that we don’t leave a partner hanging after having negotiated an agreement like this.”

This notion is severely flawed. First, as WikiLeaks documents published in Reuters demonstrate, U.S. diplomats correctly described Medvedev as playing the second fiddle to his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is calling the shots on the major policy issues.

Second, in an outburst of a Cold War–style rhetoric, Medvedev, in his State of the Federation speech, just threatened the U.S. with a new arms race if the Obama Administration will not merge the NATO missile defenses with those of Russia—something the Kremlin demands.

Although the U.S. and Russia have ostensibly “reset” relations, this new bilateral Cold War–style arms control treaty is detrimental to U.S. national security—specifically, nuclear deterrence and missile defense.

First, there are concerns about the inadequacy of the New START verification regime: The degree of verifiability is lower than in the treaty’s predecessors; and there are U.S. State Department classified and open source reports that testify to prior Russian violations of arms control agreements.

Secondly, New START fails to account for Russia’s 3,800-strong tactical nuclear arsenal, giving Moscow a tremendous war-fighting advantage in Europe.

Thirdly, the New START treaty is likely to limit our missile defense options that are critical to countering the emerging ballistic missile threats in Iran and North Korea. Moscow feels that in the long run, U.S. missile defenses would limit its deterrent capabilities.

From the American perspective however, a missile defense system limited by a treaty with Russia is detrimental not only to the U.S. but also to our allies that benefit from our security umbrella.

As we argued elsewhere, the “reset button” in fact, needs to be reset again. The resetting of bilateral relations has allowed Russia to pursue its own interests, some which come at the expense of U.S. security, as is the case with New START. Russia is too poor, and its military-industrial complex too dilapidated, to maintain its current nuclear weapons levels.

But there is more. Moscow’s assertive policy in its “zone of privileged interests along the imperial periphery” (the so-called “near abroad”) has gone virtually uncontested by the Obama Administration. For example, Russia has violated the cease-fire agreement negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy following its 2008 war with Georgia. Moscow recently extended the lease of the Gyumri military base in Armenia until 2044 and made commitments to protect Armenia’s borders against Azerbaijan and Turkey.

A recent Russian book on the Georgia war describes Gyumri as a staging area for an attack on Tbilisi, Georgia. The Russian–Armenian protocol makes Russia the dominant power in South Caucasus, as the U.S., NATO, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are unwilling or unable (due to the Russian veto) to commit to a long-term military presence there.

So, New START is a complex treaty in a complex security environment. The “Do it for Dmitry” ratification argument fails to take this into account—and makes a disservice to the serious debate about U.S. national security.