Baker Spring, following the lead of his Heritage Foundation colleague James Jay Carafano, has misrepresented the relationship between missile defense and the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia (New START). Along the way he makes a series of gratuitous and misleading comments regarding my own views on the subject, but they are irrelevant to the real issues at hand.
Our central point of disagreement is whether New START will place limits on U.S. missile defense development efforts. The short answer to this question is “no.”
One clear indication that New START will not limit the missile defense plans of the United States is the strong support for the treaty among current and former national security officials, from chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, to the head of the U.S. Strategic Command Gen. Kevin Chilton, to the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, to Secretary of Defense Gates. Their views have recently been reinforced by a letter from seven former commanders of the Strategic Air Command and the U.S. Strategic Command, who heartily endorse New START and explicitly state that “”[T]he treaty provides no meaningful constraint on U.S. missile defense plans.” If any of these officials believed that New START would diminish our ability to protect ourselves or our allies, they would not be supporting the treaty.
As I have noted elsewhere, the text of the treaty – the only part that is legally binding – puts no meaningful limits on missile defenses. This is true regardless of what one may think about the wisdom or utility of pursuing any particular approach to missile defense. Mr. Spring concedes the point that the text of the treaty does not restrict missile defense development.
Mr. Spring’s main argument – one that has been endlessly repeated by his colleagues at Heritage and other critics of New START – is that the preamble to the agreement will constrain missile defense development going forward. First, just to make this point perfectly clear, the preamble is just that – a series of introductory observations that are followed by the statement that the two parties of the treaty have “Agreed as follows.” In other words, the formal agreement occurs after the preamble. Senator Lugar (R-IN) explained long ago that such statements are “in essence editorial opinions.”
Even so, it’s worth looking at what the preamble says about missile defenses, in part to see what Mr. Spring and his cohorts are so exercised about, and, more importantly, to further clarify the potential impact of the treaty. The relevant statement from the preamble, in its entirety, reads as follows:
“Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties…”
So, what does this observation mean? First, it indicates that Russia has no objection to current U.S. missile defenses. And second, it indicates that the relationship between offensive and defensive arms will become “more important” as the numbers of strategic weapons are reduced.