In short, the preamble language is just a statement of reality. If nuclear weapons are reduced substantially – to levels far lower than the 1,550 allowed to each side under New START – the balance between offensive and defensive arms will need to be handled carefully to avoid sparking a new arms race. Why is this? Because if Russia fears that the United States can destroy most of its nuclear weapons, and then blunt any retaliatory action with its missile defenses, Moscow will feel vulnerable to what is known as a “disarming first strike.” Rather than accept this position of vulnerability, Russia will deploy more warheads and delivery vehicles to prevent the U.S. from developing or sustaining a first strike capability, and an arms race will ensue.
That is precisely why Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has suggested that the United States should not pursue such a capability:
“Under the last administration, as well as under this one, it has been United States policy not to build a missile defense that would render useless Russia’s nuclear capabilities . . . That, in our view as well as theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive.”
In other words, the concern implied in the preamble is an unlikely scenario, barring a major shift in U.S. policy. But one job of military planners is to take unlikely scenarios into account. So, the preamble language flags a problem that might arise far down the road, if then. It has nothing to do with the situation that will exist under New START.
Given all of the above, one wonders whether Mr. Carafano’s and Mr. Spring’s charges regarding New START and missile defense aren’t simply distractions designed to obscure the main point. New START is a good treaty that will make the United States safer. Not only will it reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons by one-third, but it will restore an effective verification system that will allow the United States to keep close tabs on Russia’s nuclear program. It will also serve to deepen U.S. and Russian cooperation in the nuclear sphere, making it easier to work together on issues like securing and dismantling “loose nukes” and bomb-making materials that might otherwise fall into the hands of terrorists. And it will signal to the rest of the world that Washington and Moscow are serious about nuclear arms reductions, thereby making it easier to persuade other nations to reduce or eliminate their own arsenals.
New START puts no limits on missile defenses, and it has considerable security benefits that make it worthy of ratification by the Senate as soon as possible. Mr. Carafano and Mr. Spring should remember that this is not just my opinion, it is the opinion of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command Gen. Kevin Chilton, the director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, Secretary of Defense Gates and countless other prominent national security experts. The advice of our nation’s most respected military and national security leaders has been clear: New START is essential to our national security and the Senate should move rapidly to ratify New START.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation.