Much has been written about whether the Senate should ratify the new strategic arms agreement with Russia (New START). In addition to the technical points, there is an important policy reason why senators should not vote to ratify this agreement. It would turn back the clock to the Cold War era of mutual-assured destruction and give Russia an appearance of equality with the United States that no longer exists.
When the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago, we hoped for a new, non-adversarial relationship with a democratic Russia. Although there has been some backsliding on democracy, Russia today is not an enemy. We do not have nuclear-missile treaties with Britain, France, India, Pakistan, China or other nuclear-weapon states. Why do we need one with Russia?
The George W. Bush administration withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, avoided major new arms-control deals and tried to persuade Moscow to extend START instead of rewriting it. But Russia’s leaders have insisted on a new, legally binding arms-control agreement. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seeks to restore Russia’s glory as a great power. A new binding treaty with the United States that declares the two countries equal in strategic nuclear power is a step in that direction.
Russia today is a diminished state with serious economic problems and a declining population. Oil and gas are its only major exports, yet it aspires to again dominate the countries on its borders, and it wants to keep NATO and U.S. bases out of the former Soviet republics and satellites. But Moscow’s sole remaining claim to great power status is its nuclear arsenal.
The advanced technology and increasing effectiveness of U.S. missile defenses are seen as a growing threat to the viability of Russia’s nuclear missiles. This perceived threat to the source of Russian power is why Moscow has been trying for decades to block U.S. missile defenses, first by clinging to the discredited ABM Treaty and, more recently, opposing missile defenses in Europe.
When he ran for president, Barack Obama said he would rebuild relations with Russia. He meant he would make concessions. He canceled the Bush administration’s plan to put missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, a gift the Russians quickly pocketed while asking for more.
Then, after months of arduous negotiations, a draft arms-control treaty emerged, and guess what? It suggests in the preamble a link between missile offenses and defenses. The administration says there is no link, but Russian generals insist there is. This is reminiscent of the problems with the ABM Treaty. Ambiguity is a formula for trouble in the future.
One other point is the U.S. military’s need to be able to strike quickly and effectively at deeply buried underground sites. In recent years, North Korea, China and Iran have been putting some of their most important military and nuclear facilities deep underground. The fastest and perhaps most effective way to strike such sites would be with ballistic missiles carrying deep-penetrating but nonnuclear warheads, a concept known as prompt global strike.
New START would count such nonnuclear missiles toward the ceiling on nuclear missiles. This is a highly unusual expansion of a treaty on nuclear weapons to include a limit on nonnuclear weapons. It would be a constraint on future U.S. military developments that Russian generals have been demanding for years.
New START returns us to Cold War thinking, gives the Russians an opening to restrict U.S. missile defenses, limits nonnuclear missiles for the first time and gives Moscow the legally binding treaty it demanded. In addition, there are many other problems with New START not mentioned here.
Baker Spring of the Heritage Foundation has produced a detailed summary of 12 major flaws in the treaty (Heritage Backgrounder No. 2466, Sept. 16). He does not recommend trying to fix them by amendment, which is difficult and risky. The wisest course for senators is just to vote no on the treaty.
Because a two-thirds vote is needed for ratification, Republican senators alone can block it. Then, two years from now, we can restore an approach to Russia that puts American interests first.
James T. Hackett was a member of the President’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control from 1987 to 1993.