Start over on “New START”

Font Size:

If health care and the stimulus bill were any indication, the urgency with which Democrats and President Obama are pressing for ratification of the New START treaty during the lame duck session should be ample warning that something is awry.

And if the new strategic arms reduction treaty were so critical to our national security, surely President Obama would have provided for an extension of the previous START treaty while this new one was being negotiated, rather than letting the old one expire over a year ago on December 5, 2009.

Rather, when President Obama cancelled the European Missile Defense Site in September of 2009, a few months before the old START treaty expired, he made it clear that he is more concerned with placating Russia than he is with keeping our word to our European allies in Poland and the Czech Republic, or with defending against nuclear missiles — particularly the Iranian nuclear threat.

Once again the Obama administration seems to be willing to disregard serious and urgent national security concerns in the interest of political posturing. This time, President Obama is suddenly insisting that New START must be passed during the lame duck session of Congress, despite a letter sent this week by 22 senators urging Democrats to allow more time for debate in the 112th Congress that will convene after the new year.

And to drive its point home, the administration is now holding hostage the modernization of our dilapidated nuclear arsenal. Only if enough Republicans cross the line to support New START’s ratification in the Senate will the president promise to take a first step toward overhauling the U.S. nuclear infrastructure — a critical issue arguably far more urgent than the New START agreement. The United States is now the only nuclear-capable country not modernizing its nuclear forces.

There is also much discussion on the substantive problems with the treaty itself. According to the administration’s own State Department, for many years Russia failed to comply with its treaty obligations under the previous START treaty. But apparently in the world of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, “reset” with the Russians means that the United States makes unilateral concessions on our ballistic missile capabilities while providing glaring loopholes in the treaty that will allow Russia to skirt the limits on strategic nuclear warheads.

Tactical or battlefield nukes — of which Russia is known to have ten times more than the United States — are grievously left out of the treaty altogether. For years Russia has offered assurances to Washington that it was moving these weapons back from such forward-deployed positions. Yet, just last week U.S. officials revealed that Russia has recently redeployed large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons to the borders of our Eastern European allies, a provocative act in direct contravention to Russia’s previous assurances.

And while we should not be surprised at dishonesty coming from a country President Obama’s own secretary of defense has called an “oligarchy” where “democracy has disappeared,” Americans should at least take note of the revelation last week that the administration itself has seemingly failed to be entirely forthright with Congress in regard to its treaty negotiations with Russia on missile defense.

The administration has claimed for months that no back door, secret “side agreement” to New START has been under way, which would restrict the U.S.’s ability to develop a robust missile defense. Yet last week the administration finally admitted that it had, in fact, been negotiating with Russia on a secret ballistic missile cooperation agreement. One has to wonder what other talks may have occurred with respect to missile defense limitations in the context of New START. Our concerns were compounded last week when it was reported that an internal State Department report on European missile defense omitted any mention of the fourth (and final) phase of the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) for missile defense, which is intended to provide additional defense against long-range missiles, such as those currently being manufactured in Iran.

This dishonesty over an issue so crucial to American safety makes it critical that the Senate obtain the full and complete negotiating record of the New START treaty from the administration before moving forward with ratification.

Last week, we sent a letter to Senate leadership reminding the senators that, while it is the Senate that has the power to give advice and consent to the ratification of foreign treaties, the House of Representatives will be largely responsible for the oversight of the treaty’s implementation, as well as the appropriation of funds to modernize the nuclear weapons complex, stockpile and arsenal.

The best thing to happen for American national security would be for the Senate and administration to start over on New START, to address these and many other problems. There may or may not be a treaty that Republicans could debate and ultimately support; but if there is, it deserves to be given a thorough hearing in the new 112th session of Congress — not steamrolled through the lame duck.

Tom Price (R-GA) is Chairman of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) and Trent Franks (R-AZ) is Chairman of the RSC’s National Security Working Group and Chair of the House Missile Defense Caucus.