New START vs. the Bolton Uncertainty Principle

By ACA Intern Matt Sugrue

John Bolton argues in the Wall Street Journal that:

[United States] will pay for [the New START] mistake in future conflicts entirely unrelated to Russia….New Start’s limits on delivery systems reflect military judgments only marginally. Fundamentally, they are political, diplomatic and legal in nature. The Pentagon is being told to structure its forces according to the treaty’s limits, including a ceiling of 700 launchers. This sort of compulsion has happened before, as was the case with both Start I and Start II. Forced to live within limits, and knowing that thinking outside the treaty’s four corners isn’t career-enhancing, the military will do what it must. It has no other choice.

That is a far cry from saying that the coming force structure is desirable, much less optimal, especially given the radical uncertainty of future threats….Backers of New Start say that new generations of missiles that evade the treaty’s definitions will give America the conventional delivery capabilities it needs. But that is trading birds in the hand for imagined birds in the bush—the very signature of harmful, politically-driven decision making.

There are problems, both factual and logical, with Bolton’s argument against New START.

Launcher Limits Constrain Both Sides

New START does place limits on U.S. launchers but, as is pointed out below, the limits do not place onerous restrictions on the U.S. military, and they allow for the Pentagon to protect American interests. Also, despite Bolton’s assertion to the contrary,  New START limits Russian launchers,. USSTRATCOM Commander Gen. Kevin P. Chilton testified that, “the constraints of the treaty actually do constrain Russia with regard to deployed launchers and deployed strategic weapons, and that’s an important element as well. Without that, [the Russians] are unconstrained.” In addition, Morton Halperin, senior advisor to the Open Society Institute, stated,

[New START] has a definition of both strategic offensive missiles and strategic offensive launchers, which clearly includes [rail] mobile systems. So they are covered by the treaty, they are prohibited by the treaty, I think no Russian could possibly believe that this treaty was written to put limits on offensive missiles but then say, but if you put them on rails, they don’t count…I think that the Senate can ratify the treaty in full confidence that real mobile missiles are covered.

Russian rail mobile missiles have been a source of concern for some Senate Republicans. New START constraints on launchers would also apply to Russian rail mobile systems, if the Russians were to deploy such systems in the future.

The Pentagon Favors New START

Bolton contends that the Pentagon is being “forced” to accept New START. However, military commanders have embraced the treaty, including Chilton who also said,

United States Strategic Command was closely consulted before and during negotiations on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and I look forward to discussing the treaty with you today. I would like to note…how proud I am of the extraordinary work the Command performed in support of these negotiations…New START will enhance the security of the United States of America, and I support its ratification.

The Pentagon supports New START because it allows the military strategic flexibility. James Miller, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testified that New START provides “the freedom to mix U.S. strategic nuclear forces as we see fit, the Treaty will allow the United States to rebalance its strategic forces as necessary to adapt to any future technical and geopolitical challenges that could affect a given leg of the Triad.” Far from unduly constraining the U.S. military, New START allows for adaptability in responding to new, unforeseen threats.

The Bolton Uncertainty Principle

Bolton is correct in pointing out that the future is uncertain (although whether it is radical or not is a matter of opinion). He is also correct in pointing out that only so much weight can be given to potential, and as yet unproven, conventional missile technologies. However, Bolton’s argument that New START may hamstring U.S. capabilities to deal with future events can be applied to any arms control treaty, or even any treaty that imposes some type of regulation. With this argument, Bolton is stating his opposition to any form of arms control. His views represent a fringe theory of international relations, and are far away from mainstream arms control.

Bolton’s op-ed raises some legitimate points of concern regarding New START. Fortunately, his concerns are not warranted and have been sufficiently addressed during New START’s exhaustive hearing process. 

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