MONROE: No new START with Russia
To date, Senate ratification hearings on the New START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia have been “love-ins.” A parade of witnesses - mostly Obama administration members, elder statesmen committed to “a world without nuclear weapons,” and veteran arms controllers - have painted the treaty as another modest, responsible reduction in numbers of weapons, a new nonproliferation initiative and an important element for “resetting” our relations with Russia.
This one-sided approach to a key national decision is not serving the country well. Ratification of New START would be a major mistake, immensely damaging to national security. Some of the reasons have been touched upon in testimony but not emphasized or seriously discussed. For example:
The treaty is unbalanced. It reduces U.S. nuclear weapons while allowing Russia unlimited increases in new tactical nuclear weapons, multiple independent re-entry vehicles, nuclear cruise missiles and nuclear bombs.
The treaty is unverifiable. It does not even include the on-site inspections, telemetry access and missile-production monitoring of START-I, which it replaces.
The treaty seriously undermines our promising Prompt Global Strike program (with conventional warheads) by requiring that each missile be counted as a nuclear SDV.
Our nuclear weapons modernization program - which is required by law to be considered with treaty ratification - is totally inadequate. It omits modernization of the nuclear weapons themselves; it omits testing of nuclear weapons to prove their viability; it omits construction of a pit (trigger) production facility of adequate capacity to rapidly replace our overaged stockpile; and it omits replacement of SDVs for two legs of our strategic triad.
But beyond these powerful reasons for denying ratification are other - more damaging - aspects of New START.
President Obama has pledged to maintain, for decades, a nuclear weapons stockpile that is “safe, secure and effective.” Let’s focus on “effective.” The principal purpose of our stockpile is to deter adversaries from nuclear threats or use. The most essential element of deterrence is credibility. Our adversaries will not be deterred unless - in their minds - they believe we will use our weapons in retaliation. But the weapons in our stockpile are simply not credible for use against today’s adversaries. These weapons are remnants of the Cold War, designed decades ago for massive retaliation, with huge yields, only moderate accuracy and “dirty” radiation outputs. Adversaries such as Iran and North Korea know we would not use them. To achieve credibility, we need new weapons with low yields, great accuracy, reduced residual radiation, intrinsic security and specialized capabilities such as earth penetration. To gain these capabilities, we will have to design and test new nuclear weapons - activities that Mr. Obama has prohibited. Thus, the effective deterrent he has promised the American people does not exist and cannot be produced.
Now let’s focus on the word President Obama left out of his description of our future nuclear stockpile - reliable. For more than half a century, America has insisted that its nuclear weapons be reliable as well as safe, secure and effective. Reliability has been a hallmark of U.S. nuclear weapons. And the most essential tool for achieving and maintaining this reliability was underground nuclear testing. Today we have far less confidence in the reliability of our nuclear weapons, which are years beyond the end of their design life. We have not conducted a single nuclear test for almost two decades. Radiation has been inducing changes in the 6,000-odd parts of each nuclear weapon. Failed parts have been replaced with untested parts of different design. Anomalies are being discovered that cannot be answered with confidence. And Mr. Obama plans to rely on these same weapons for many decades in the future. It’s not surprising that the word “reliable” was omitted.
In sum, the Senate owes it to America to expand the New START ratification debate so that it fully addresses the true issue at stake - should America rely on strength or weakness as it faces the dangerous and unknown future? Hopefully, these hearings will stimulate the national debate the issue deserves.
Robert R. Monroe, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral, is a former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency.
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