Opinion

New START, on the merits

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William D. Hartung
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      William D. Hartung

      William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. He is the co-editor of Lessons from Iraq: Avoiding the Next War (Paradigm Press, 2008). His previous books include And Weapons for All (HarperCollins, 1995), a critique of U.S. arms sales policies from the Nixon through Clinton administrations.

      Bill Hartung’s articles on security issues have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and the World Policy Journal. He has been a featured expert on national security issues on CBS 60 Minutes, NBC Nightly News, the Lehrer Newshour, CNN, Fox News, and scores of local, regional, and international radio outlets.

In his July 29 opinion piece, James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation takes issue with my support for the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. But if one looks at the case for the treaty on the merits, his arguments against it are unpersuasive.

The agreement would reduce U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warheads by about one-third, to 1,550 each.  This is still enough for either side to destroy the other many times over, and would therefore dissuade either side from even considering a nuclear attack on the other.

In addition to what it would prevent, New START would also promote actions that would benefit U.S. and Russian security.

First, the treaty would put into place an effective, multi-layered verification system that would include satellite monitoring, information exchanges, and 18 annual onsite visits to key locations.  This verification system – which expired when the prior START agreement lapsed last December — would build confidence on both sides and make it easier to contemplate further reductions in a next round of talks.

Second, putting New START into place would make it easier to persuade other nations to reduce or eliminate their own nuclear arsenals. For this to happen, the U.S. and Russia – the countries that possess over 90% of the world’s 23,000 strategic nuclear weapons – need to show leadership in reducing these dangerous stockpiles. New START is an important step in that direction.

Finally, New START will make it easier to build strong international coalitions to take action towards curbing or eliminating the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.

These are daunting tasks, but New START will make it easier to achieve them.

So, what are the objections raised by Mr. Carafano and other critics of New START?  Aside from taking umbrage at my use of adjectives in a piece I wrote last May, Mr. Carafano is exercised about a few actual arguments.

By far the most substantive claim in Mr. Carafano’s piece – which is devoted almost entirely to complaining about my arguments (or, in some cases, about arguments he attributes to me through the use of quotations that are taken out of context) – has to do with the relationship between New START and missile defense.  Contrary to his view, there is no such linkage. The text of the treaty – the only part that is legally binding – puts no meaningful limits on missile defenses.  And while the preamble acknowledges that there is a link between defense and offense in the nuclear realm, this is a simple reality, not some sort of insidious effort to undermine current U.S. missile defense programs, which are focused almost exclusively on blunting the current or potential nuclear weapons of Iran and North Korea. This is true under the Obama administration, and it was true under the administration of George W. Bush – a fact that Carafano is unwilling to acknowledge.