The Obama administration is frantically trying to deliver a ratification win on the New START (or START II) nuclear arms treaty. The harder Democrats push the agreement, the more troubling questions arise.
On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "It is time to move forward on a treaty that will help reverse nuclear proliferation and make it harder for terrorists to get their hands on a nuclear weapon." Rebranding START as a counterterrorism tool in this way is disingenuous. The treaty has nothing to do with terrorism, and the word doesn't appear anywhere in the text. The treaty limits strategic nuclear warheads, weapons that terrorists wouldn't be able to deploy even if they had them.
The only possible linkage to terrorism would be if the treaty limited the 2,000 to 6,000 Russian tactical battlefield nuclear warheads, which it doesn't. Likewise, START II will do nothing to address the threat of nuclear proliferation, which is centered on countries such as North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, none of which is a party to the agreement or even mentioned in it.
It's possible that U.S. and Russian negotiators took up these issues at some point during the process, but the Obama administration - in another violation of the president's promise of government transparency - has sealed the negotiation record. Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification and compliance, brushed off calls for more openness, claiming her team already "answered a thousand questions for the record," which purportedly should be enough. On Dec. 7, she said letting the Senate see what was discussed "would have a chilling effect on future negotiations and overall have a deleterious effect on U.S. diplomacy." Mrs. Gottemoeller's comments defeat her purpose; if there is something that important in the record, then by all means the Senate must know what it is. Treaties cannot be decided the same way House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rammed through Obamacare legislation, in which lawmakers could only find out what was in the bill after they voted for it.
On the critical linkage to missile defense, Mr. Obama sent a letter to the Senate on Sunday claiming the treaty "places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile-defense programs." Moscow directly contradicted this last spring when the Kremlin issued a statement that START II "can operate and be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile defense capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively." It's curious why the White House isn't troubled by such a fundamental disconnect between prospective treaty partners. But instead of seeking clarity from Moscow, Mr. Obama is focusing on convincing senators there is no problem. Once the vote is taken, of course, Mr. Obama can do as he pleases.
The gist of the issue is the treaty's preamble language, which states that the parties recognize "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." Treaty supporters assert this language isn't operable but merely an embellishment.
If that's the case, they should have no objection to an amendment striking the paragraph, or even just the reference to "current" strategic defensive arms. If the president is as good as his word on missile defense, he should have no objection, either. If treaty supporters do object, senators should stand firm against ratification until all the troubling secrets of START have been revealed.
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