Tea Party on New Start: more right than Rogin

James Carafano Director, Heritage Foundation's Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
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Josh Rogin took note when a major Tea Party group rallied against New START, the arms control treaty Obama signed with the Russians.

He was right to pay attention. The Tea Parties have said little on defense issues. Some on the Left had high hopes, even as they trashed the Tea Parties, that the latter might actually join them in an effort to cut defense spending; bail on Afghanistan; and scale back on America’s overseas footprint.

The arms-control Left was also probably hoping that Tea Party followers would become part of a bipartisan “anti-military” arms-control coalition.

This hope appears dashed. Indeed, Liberty Central’s decision to oppose New START suggests that the Tea Partiers are part of the “peace through strength” coalition. In a related development, the First Coast Tea Party in Florida is hosting a screening of the pro-missile defense documentary “33 Minutes” on Sept. 7. These developments are big news.

If Rogin had stuck to the story, rather than try to play arms-control expert, his piece may have been more accurate. He went on, however, to ridicule the anti-New Start argument, suggesting that the Tea Parties are out of their league and don’t know what they are talking about. The problem is, most of his “gotchas” are either misleading or just plain wrong.

The Tea Parties are more right than Rogin.

Rogin asserts that missile defense was never about defeating a Soviet/Russian nuclear strike. This is not quite right. The Reagan administration sought to couple missile defense and arms control in order to end the U.S.’s vulnerability to such a strike. While missile defense alone would not end this vulnerability, it was an essential part of Reagan’s “peace through strength” policy. New START seeks to minimize the importance of missile defense and resurrect the old “Mutual Assured Destruction,” or MAD, balance of terror — a policy that leaves the U.S. intentionally vulnerable to Russian missile strikes.

Next, Rogin wrongly asserts that there is no withdrawal provision in the treaty for missile defense. The general withdrawal clause is in Article XIV and the Russian unilateral statement, as bolstered by the anti-missile-defense paragraph in the preamble, links opting out of the treaty to missile defense. In other words, if a future president decides Obama’s missile-defense plans are insufficient and elects to build much more robust defenses, then the Russians can just walk away from the treaty (after, oh, we’ve already cut our warheads and delivery systems).

Rogin is also wrong when he argues that the withdrawal of the Third Site missile-defense proposal in Europe was a separate decision from pursuing New START. It most certainly was not. President Obama withdrew Third Site to “reset” relations with Russia, in order to facilitate New START negotiations. Ultimately, both the withdrawal of Third Site and New START became key steps in the White House push for the broader reset policy. In other words, this is all about making Russia happy.

Finally, Rogin points out that the change in declaratory policy regarding the use of nuclear weapons, which narrows U.S. strategic options, came in the Nuclear Posture Review or NPR (released before the treaty was signed) and not in New START. This is true as far as it goes. But Rogin is flat wrong to suggest that it is wrong to criticize New START on the basis of the negative consequences of the NPR. Together, the change in declaratory policy in the NPR and New START serve to reinforce each other in weakening the U.S.’s strategic posture.

Rogin wants Americans to ignore the broader, troubling implications of New START. The Tea Parties are dead right when they link the two issues.

James Jay Carafano is senior research fellow for national security and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org). Baker Spring is Heritage’s F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy.