Trust but Verify: A Brief Response to New START Criticisms

Source: State Department Blog

By ACA Intern Matt Sugrue

In a recent op-ed, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) argues against New START on the basis of three points: that the Russians will maintain a tactical nuclear weapons advantage over the United States, supposed constraints on U.S. missile defense, and alleged inadequacy of verification provisions in the treaty.

Tactical Nuclear Weapons Are Not Relevant to New START
DeMint writes, “the treaty mandates strategic nuclear weapons parity with the progeny of an old Cold War foe, yet allows the Russians to maintain a 10-to-1 tactical nuclear-weapons advantage.” Despite the fact that this statement seems stuck in the Cold War, using Russia’s more numerous tactical nukes as one of the justifications for not ratifying New START misses an important point.

“If there’s no agreement on [New START], the chances of moving forward to discuss non-strategic nuclear weapons is close to zero,” said former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. In addition, New START stands for New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. As Tom Z. Collina pointed out in an ACA Issue Brief, “by design” New START only covers strategic, not tactical, weapons.

There Are No Limits on Missile Defense
New START absolutely does not give the Russians the ability to veto any U.S. missile defense plans. In front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (the agency that oversees missile defense), testified, “the new START treaty actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program. Unless they have new-START-accountable first stages, which we do not plan to use, our targets will no longer be subject to START constraints.”

O’Reilly went on to say in hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations committee that the New START ban on converting ICBM launchers to missile defense capabilities did not limit U.S. missile defense. A new missile defense-specific silo has been developed that “costs $20M less than converting ICBM silos and is easier to protect and maintain.” In addition, New START allows the five converted ICBM silos at Vandenberg AFB to be used for missile defense. According to O’Reilly maintaining a secure missile defense does not require converting ICBM silos, it requires that the MDA build newer, more effective silos.

While the treaty itself does not limit U.S. missile defense, the Russian’s unilateral statement regarding missile defense has been cited as a source of concern. However, Steven Pifer and Strobe Talbott point out in their July 7 Washington Post op-ed that the preamble does not limit missile defense. Of course, neither the preamble nor Russia’s unilateral statement on missile defense is legally binding.

Verification Measures are Adequate
“[New START] features a much more effective, transparent verification method that demands quicker data exchanges and notifications,” said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen at a  briefing on New START. Before a July 20 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. James N. Miller stated that that the verification regime of New START is one of the treaty’s “greatest contributions.”

The trouble that critics encounter when assailing New START’s verification regime as ineffective is that without it the United States has nothing. Basic common sense dictates that it is impossible for that to be true. Some knowledge is always better than ignorance.

This is not a debate between one set of verification procedures and another; it is between New START verification or no verification. Are New START critics arguing that U.S. intelligence and military planners would be better off without the ability to inspect Russian nuclear sites?

Legitimate points can be raised about any treaty.  New START critics, however, have yet to come up with a factually accurate and logically coherent argument against New START that warrants rejecting ratification.

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