New START now

Font Size:

If twisted logic were an Olympic sport, James Carafano would be a gold medalist.

In his most recent piece he seems to take issue with my opposition to the idea of developing a massive, costly, and destabilizing missile defense system aimed at thwarting Russia’s nuclear deterrent.  He then goes on to say that if I believe that, I should be opposed to the New START treaty, which puts no limits on missile defense development.

All I can surmise is that Mr. Carafano is so enamored of old thinking on arms control that he can’t make basic distinctions any more.

As I have made clear in my other Daily Caller pieces, the text of the New START treaty – the only part that is legally binding – puts no meaningful limits on missile defense.  Russia may choose to worry about what might happen decades from now with respect to U.S. missile defense developments, but those concerns have nothing to do with the treaty, which stands on its own as a positive step towards a safer world.

On this point, it’s worth remembering that generations of military leaders, from the current heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency to seven former commanders of U.S. nuclear forces all support New START, and all agree that it does not restrict missile defense development. As the commanders noted in a recent letter to Congress, “[T]he treaty provides no meaningful constraint on U.S. missile defense plans.”

Given this reality, different analysts can still have different opinions on how the United States should choose to use its freedom to develop missile defenses.  As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has noted, it is not U.S. policy to try to field a missile defense system that would negate Russia’s nuclear deterrent, because doing so would be “enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive.”

Furthermore, the focus of U.S. missile defense efforts for the past two decades has been to address potential threats from regional powers like North Korea or Iran, not from Russia.  If Mr. Carafano wants to change that approach, he should say so.

That brings me to Mr. Carafano’s second point, that there is no rush to ratify the New START agreement.  In fact, prompt ratification of the treaty is essential. As Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) recently noted, if the treaty is not finished by this December it is “no longer an issue of parliamentary debate, it’s an issue of national security.” He made this point because without New START, there will be no verification system to help monitor what Russia is doing in the nuclear sphere.  It doesn’t make sense to deprive our military of that critical information, as noted by the seven former commanders of our nation’s nuclear forces cited above.

New START is a modest but essential first step towards bringing the nuclear threat under control.  By reducing each side’s deployed strategic warheads to 1,550, it reinforces a basic position of parity while reducing force levels by about one-third. It puts in place a sophisticated verification system that includes satellite monitoring, information exchanges, and 18 annual on-site inspections. It will set the stage for further talks with Russia on eliminating short-range, tactical nuclear weapons. And it will give the U.S. greater leverage in persuading other nations to reduce their own nuclear arsenals. And it puts no limits on the development of missile defenses.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation.