Playing politics with national security

James Carafano Director, Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
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William Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, has come up with what he seems to think is a clincher argument for why the Senate should approve the New START treaty: Conservatives are against it.

“A strange debate is emerging in Congress over the links — or lack thereof — between missile defense and the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia,” he opines. “Treaty opponents like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and the Heritage Foundation have suggested that the agreement will spell the end of missile defense development as we know it, to the detriment of U.S. security.”

If dismissing concerns about the treaty as “strange” is the best argument proponents of the treaty can come up, maybe that fact alone hints that Senate approval would be a cause for major concern. As Heritage defense expert Baker Spring points out:

“New START’s preamble commits both sides to reducing missile defense capabilities as offensive strategic forces are reduced — whether under New START or in the future under additional agreements — in order to preserve ‘the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.’”

Hartung asserts that this language is not legally binding. But the Russians think otherwise, and international law appears to favor their view. Simply saying, “ignore the reality that the treaty places meaningful limits on missile defense” is a surprisingly weak argument.

In fact, the best argument that Hartung musters in defense of the treaty is that it’s a “modest step.” He’s certainly correct on that score.

The treaty would cut fewer weapons than the existing Moscow and original START agreements and it contains poorer verification agreements. There are no limits on Russian modernization or tactical nuclear weapons, and under the treaty Russia can actually add more nuclear delivery systems. In return for giving Russia all of this the U.S. gets: nothing.

Wait, Hartung says. This is only the first step.

The “next steps can and should include another round of U.S.-Russia talks that involve deeper reductions.” Let’s ask the logical question: Why didn’t the administration negotiate a better treaty to begin with?

That, after all, is what Reagan did in the 1980s. In short, Hartung wants the Senate to reward Obama for his effort. An “A” for trying.

Finally, Hartung argues that if the Senate doesn’t ratify the treaty this “would be a major setback for President Obama’s efforts to seek deep reductions in global nuclear arsenals, and his longer-term goal of getting rid of these devastating weapons altogether.” That’s just scare tactics. First, there are real alternatives for effective arms control. Second, research suggests that this treaty might actually result in more nuclear proliferation and increase the likelihood of nuclear conflict. A recent study organized by Heritage analyzed the Obama arms control strategy and found it wanting.

In the end, Hartung pretty much damns the treaty with faintest of praise. Admitting the treaty is mediocre and denouncing missile defense (which remains the only way to protect America if a missile is launched) aren’t decent arguments for the treaty. Instead, Hartung’s efforts ought to inspire the Senate to take a much closer and longer look at New START before it does anything else.

James Jay Carafano is Deputy Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, heritage.org.