Arms Tied

The tradition of leaving politics at the water’s edge suffered a serious setback last week as Republicans sought to block a Senate vote on ratification of the new nuclear arms treaty with Russia. New Start would limit the United States and Russia to 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers each. It would also provide for mutual verification of disarmament. It is widely regarded as a critical contribution to the national interest and an issue on which Republicans and the Obama administration could agree. But emboldened after victories in November’s elections and unwilling to grant the president a victory of any sort, key Republicans have backed away from the plan. As we go to press, the president made a last-minute push for ratification. We hope his efforts will succeed.

This should not be a partisan issue. The original START treaty was proposed by President Ronald Reagan, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President George H. W. Bush. Today, at least one Republican in the Senate, Richard G. Lugar, knows how important it is to ratify the treaty in order to ensure stable relations with Russia. Yet Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican point man on this issue, remains unconvinced; he has proposed waiting until the new Senate is in session to consider the treaty—when a larger Republican caucus will make it much less likely that President Obama will garner the 67 votes needed for ratification.


In addition to setting back relations with Russia, failure to ratify New Start would give foreign governments one more reason to be anxious over the unreliability of the United States as a world leader. It would rob U.S. delegates of their moral authority as they seek to stem the proliferation of nuclear arms in Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. And it would be a giant step backward in a matter that is clearly a personal passion for the president: cracking down on the illicit weapons trade and limiting the ways nuclear arms may be used in warfare.

It is clear from the president’s recent trip to India that the November election results weakened his standing on the world stage. That may not bother the Republican leadership, but it should. In the interest of national security, the United States needs to have a strong voice in world affairs, especially on an issue as crucial as nuclear weapons and especially at a time when terrorists are seeking to acquire this weaponry. If the public allows Republican politicians to combine anxiety over the economic decline with excessive nationalism in international affairs, then the world will be in for very hard times.

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C Walter Mattingly
8 years 3 months ago
Most US strategists do not feel the threat of a nuclear missile strike against the US will come from Russian sources, but rather from a North Korea or a rogue terrorist group which somehow gains control of a nuclear missile. To that end, what the US needs to develop is not so much nuclear missiles but antiballistic missiles, which thanks to previous administrations we are far along with, but not yet there. The problem with the Russian response, built into these negotiations, is that they wish the US to sharply curtail development of ABMs, which would make us vulnerable to such as North Korea and Iran. While such a system would not come close to defending against the massive missile salvo Russia could mount, it could very logically discourage a headcase regime such as North Korea or Iran, or an Islamist leader believing himself to be on his way to 76 virgins, from launching a nuclear missile against us.
There are good reasons for renegotiating this treaty, at least as regards our developing self-defense against such an attack.
Mike Evans
8 years 3 months ago
There is really no excuse for not ratifying this treaty asap. The objections raised so far are specious and trivial. If we and the rest of the major powers are serious about nuclear disarmament, we must take strong action. Unless of course, your only objective is to embarrass the president.
C Walter Mattingly
8 years 3 months ago
Unfortunately, leaders in both Europe and Asia have recently provided ample embarrassment for the president.
Those of us who doubt the claim that former president Bush perpetrated the attack of 9/11 do not believe that the prospect of another attack by Islamists/other terrorist states is specious and trivial, but all too real. For the sake of their children and the country, they would like to see the limited development of a functional American ABM system asap.
John Hess
8 years 3 months ago
Mr. Mattingly writes of the need for an ABM system, but while having such a system would surely not be a negative thing, spending scarce mega-billions and lots of time into developing a functional one is preparing for the last war.  Given that openly attacking the US with a small number of missiles would amount to national suicide by North Korea or Iran, the most likely system used to deliver a warhead is likely to be a truck or shipping container of undetermined origin.  Reducing the number of nukes in the world enhances everyones safety.  Our "loyal" Republicans in the Senate are playing politics with our national security.  They need to be Americans first and Republicans second.
C Walter Mattingly
8 years 3 months ago
John, no argument here that North Korea or some other nation/group launching a missile or two at us would be suicidal. Just like 9/11 was. Diplomats for decades have characterized N Korea as totally unpredictable.
We are providing a missile defense system for Europe against Iranian missiles at the moment. I think if we asked Americans, they would probably approve of a defense for the US.
It's not that I am against this treaty; that the individual of greatest competence, experience, and integrity in this administration, Robert Gates, supports it is a very powerful recommendation. But in 5 or 10 years, the threat of such a missile attack will grow exponentially. I'd like the Russians to be more forthcoming in that area in any treaty with us.
LaRue Withers
8 years 3 months ago
E.Patrick Mosman
8 years 3 months ago
Assuming that the supporters of the START Treaty have read it they are fully aware of its articles,the good and the bad for our countries defense capabilities. For those who have read it and those who have not the following assessment should be perused. The article on Missile Defense is quoted in its entirety. Note the Russia is permitted to walk away from the treaty if the USA improves its missile defense system.

An Independent Assessment of New START Treaty

New START’s Limitations on Missile Defense

Senior Administration officials have stated repeatedly that New START includes no limits whatsoever on ballistic missile defenses. Yet, in truth, New START contains many provisions relating to missile defense (including legal prohibitions) and could set the stage for further limitations without the advice and consent of the Senate.

The preamble to the New START Treaty adopts the position publicly expressed by Russian officials on missile defense and implicitly adopts the deterrence theory known as Mutual Assured Destruction. “Stability” in this theory is predicated on each side’s ability to threaten the other with annihilation. Accordingly, a U.S. capability to “undermine” the viability and effectiveness of Russia’s strategic offensive arms is deemed destabilizing. This language appears to commit the United States to a logic that would dictate reductions in U.S. strategic defensive capabilities corresponding to the reduction in Russian strategic offensive capabilities. To wit, New START states:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties….[38]

The right of Russian withdrawal from the Treaty based on U.S. missile defense deployment beyond “current strategic” capabilities is implicit in this Treaty language. The Chief of the International Treaty Directorate in Russia’s Defense Ministry during the negotiation of New START, General Yevgeniy Buzinskiy, provides precisely this interpretation: “The sides agreed that the present strategic defensive arms are not undermining the viability and effectiveness of their strategic offensives forces. This makes it possible for us, in case the Americans increase their strategic ABM system, to claim that they are not observing [the terms] of the treaty.”[39]

In addition to the language in the Treaty’s Preamble quoted above, the Treaty reads, “Each Party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from this Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme interests.”[40] Missile defense is included in the subject matter of the Treaty, and it implicitly recognizes a right of withdrawal relating to strategic missile defense capabilities beyond current levels.

Of the three specific prohibitions in the Treaty, two are related to missile defense. Article V of the Treaty reads:

Each Party shall not convert and shall not use ICBM launchers and SLBM launchers for placement of missile defense interceptors therein. Each Party further shall not convert and shall not use launchers of missile defense interceptors for placement of ICBMs and SLBMs therein. This provision shall not apply to ICBM launchers that were converted prior to signature of this Treaty for placement of missile defense interceptors therein.[41]

This provision is linked to a definition of missile defense launcher and missile defense interceptor missiles that appears in the Protocol.[42] These definitions appear to risk bringing the systems the United States plans to deploy in Europe under the authority of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) because they establish a 5,500 km-missile range threshold for missile defense interceptors that are within Treaty constraints and subject to discussion in the BCC. The Protocol also describes related verification provisions that apply only to the U.S.[43] and prohibits the use of telemetry data for missile defense purposes.[44]

After months of forcefully denying that New START contains any limitations on missile defense, the Obama Administration now acknowledges its limitations on missile defense, but says that those limits are not burdensome because it does not plan to use ICBM or SLBM launchers for defensive interceptors; so the prohibition on such conversion is not a meaningful limit. This point obviously changes the question from whether New START contains limits on missile defense to whether this Administration finds the limits New START does contain to be burdensome. This revision of the Administration’s claims regarding the new Treaty dismisses the possibility that a future administration could find that these limits on ballistic missile defense preclude important defensive options. New START prohibits some missile defense options but secures no corresponding limits on the types of offensive missile threats from Iran and North Korea that U.S. missile defenses are intended to address. The extent to which these ballistic missile defense limits in New START will create serious problems for U.S. and allied security in the future cannot now be known with precision.

The most serious threat to missile defense in the New START Treaty is contained in the power given to the Treaty compliance forum, the Bilateral Consultative Commission. The New START Treaty, like the START I Treaty, allows “Viability and Effectiveness” changes without Senate advice and consent.[45] However, the BCC authority in New START is much broader because the all-important definitions and Agreed Statements in the Treaty’s Protocol can be changed by the BCC. Viability and Effectiveness changes are not supposed to impact the rights of the parties, but in arms control, as with the tax code, changing definitions can have substantive effects.

Missile defense is directly within the purview of the BCC. It is authorized to “Discuss the unique features of missiles and their launchers, other than ICBMs and ICBM launchers, or SLBMs and SLBM launchers, referred to in paragraph 3 of Article V of the Treaty, that distinguish such missiles and their launchers from ICBMs and ICBM launchers, or SLBMs and SLBM launchers.”[46] This provision specifically targets defensive interceptors. The BCC is authorized to “Agree upon such additional measures as may be necessary to improve the viability and effectiveness of the Treaty.”[47] These agreements can be kept secret with the agreement of the parties.[48] Repeated significant changes involving missile defense could take place in secret and without Senate advice and consent. Such a broad mandate and authority is unprecedented and could affect defenses deployed at home and abroad given the Protocol’s definition of missile defense launcher and interceptor.


All previous strategic arms control efforts have faced questions. The foregoing independent assessment of New START raises questions that should be considered important by all interested in national security and the integrity of the arms control process and its outcomes. To the extent that New START itself is significant, so too are these questions; only muddled thinking could suggest that arms control in itself is significant but these points are not. Hopefully, a broad and bipartisan set of U.S. Senators will take up these questions as they pursue their solemn responsibility of providing advice and consent on New START.
E.Patrick Mosman
8 years 3 months ago
It is increasingly obvious that those who support the START treaty are as in the dark as to its actual and unintended consequences as are our Senators who must vote on its ratification.
Anorther example of behind the scenes, secret talks which would limit our national missle defense is provided below:
Another shoe drops on New START

"Unconfirmed reports of a secret side agreement to the New START nuclear arms treaty started circulating in mid-October. The side agreement supposedly restricts the U.S.’s ability to pursue a robust missile defense.
The reports drove a number of U.S. Senators to write Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton, demanding that the administration make available all the documents and records regarding any side negotiations. Administration officials turned over “summary” documents only, vehemently denying that any side deals were in the works.

Yesterday, the State Department released a fact sheet admitting that the Obama administration has been negotiating with Russia on missile defense “cooperation.” Awkward!

The State Department insists the negotiations weren’t secret. It’s just that they never mentioned it publicly. So that explains THAT."

Read more:


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