Air Force Magazine Editor: Ratify New START

By Eric Auner

In an excellent editorial in the October issue of Air Force Magazine, chief editor Adam J. Hebert effectively addresses many of the misguided criticisms of New START and calls for prompt Senate approval of the treaty.  It’s only the latest example of the overwhelming support for New START from uniformed and retired military officers. It’s also the latest in a long list of editorials from across the nation that have been written in support of the treaty.

Critics have pointed to missile defenses and verification concerns as the two greatest weaknesses with the treaty. New START prohibits the US and Russia from converting existing ICBM or SLBM silos into missile defense launchers, for example.

As the critics tell it, this is a dangerous development that prevents the US from being able to adequately protect its citizens and allies. In reality, it is a non-issue.

The treaty does not restrict new missile defense programs or capabilities, and the US has no interest in converting existing nuclear weapons silos into ground-based interceptor silos.

“What I would do is, if we had to expand the number of GBIs, is build a new missile field,” Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told reporters in Washington, D.C. “It would be less expensive, faster, and easier to maintain.” It costs about $20 million less, per interceptor, to build a new GBI silo from scratch, compared to converting an existing ICBM silo.

US missile defenses are not even designed to stop a Russian attack—30 interceptors can do next to nothing against the Russian arsenal. What they will continue to do is offer protection against attack from rogue states such as North Korea or Iran.

This is a straightforward argument, based on the judgments of senior defense officials including Robert Gates and US Strategic Command chief Gen. Kevin P. Chilton.  Even so, New START critics like Frank Gaffney continue to insist that the treaty will “hobble” U.S. missile defenses.

Herbert goes on to explain that New START is verifiable and effectively constrains Russian strategic forces.  He concludes:

Here, then, is what New START will accomplish: Consistent with the goal of every President since Reagan, it will help reduce US nuclear forces to the lowest level needed for national security. It takes the US and Russia to 1,550 deployed warheads, compared to START’s 6,000 and today’s 2,200 under SORT, the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty. America’s triad of nuclear capable B-2 and B-52 bombers, Minuteman III ICBMs, and Trident submarines will be protected and preserved.

New START is not perfect. It is, after all, a negotiated agreement. But it is far superior to the uncertainty and guesswork that accompany no agreement whatsoever.

The Senate should ratify New START quickly, allowing U.S. diplomats to focus on other important arms control priorities like tactical nuclear weapons reductions, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

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