Romney Is Wrong on New START (Again)

By Daryl G. Kimball

Once-upon-a-time presidential candidate, Mitt Romney has once again urged the Senate to “Stop New START.” Once again he shows he’s getting some bad advice.

Romney’s latest column in The Boston Globe is full of misrepresentations, factual errors, and it ignores the very obvious benefits of re-establishing verifiable limits on Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal.

As a public service, here is a reality-check on Mr. Romney’s assertions. You can find more in our New START guide, “The Case for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” available online here: http://www.armscontrol.org/pressroom/caseforNewSTART

Senator John Kerry explains why Romney is wrong again in his own rebuttal oped here: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/blogs/the_angle/2010/12/new_start_debat.html

Romney says New START limits U.S. missile defense options. Wrong.

In reality, New START is a “missile defense friendly” treaty. The only missile defense “constraint” of any kind in New START is the prohibition on converting long-range missile launchers for use by missile defense interceptors, which isn’t something we want to do. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, testified to Congress that there are no plans to convert launchers, and that if any new missile defense launchers were needed, it would be quicker and cheaper to build new ones.

None of the critics, including Romney, have explained how this provision limits U.S. missile defense options in the real world. Moreover, O’Reilly explained that the treaty “…actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program [compared to the 1991 START agreement],” by allowing the launch of missile defense targets from airborne and waterborne platforms.

Romney complains that New START’s preambular language recognizes the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms. This is neither new (similar language was in earlier U.S.-Russian agreements) and most importantly, it did not lead to any numerical or qualitative limits on missile defenses in New START.

Moreover, the preamble also notes that “current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties” – a Russian acknowledgment that the 30 U.S. strategic ballistic missile interceptors currently deployed do not threaten Moscow’s strategic nuclear retaliatory capability.

Lost on Mitt Romney is the fact that the Obama administration is going full-bore on its “Phased Adaptive Approach,” which would substantially increase SM-3 intermediate-range interceptor deployments in Europe, with NATO’s backing and potentially in cooperation with Russia. While some missile defense ideologues might bemoan Obama’s decision to shelve the Bush-era plan to deploy 10 unproven silo-based strategic interceptors in Poland, the new plan better addresses the existing Iranian and North Korean short- and medium-range missile threat.

Romney says the treaty’s compliance verification program is inadequate. Wrong.

The U.S. intelligence community and Secretary of Defense Gates say New START verification and monitoring system is more than adequate.

Furthermore, without New START there is no verification program adequate to the task. It has been 365 days since U.S. inspectors were on the ground in Russia. The U.S. intelligence community CANNOT confidently assess Russia’s nuclear forces without this new treaty, which provide MORE information about Russian strategic warhead deployments than the original 1991 START.

Romney claims that “we would no longer be allowed to witness the destruction of Russian mobile ICBMs and launchers.” Wrong again. The treaty requires the verifiable destruction of any launchers above the treaty’s 700 nuclear-armed launcher limit. Romney complains that the prior provision for continuous on-site inspection of the principal Russian missile factory would be eliminated.

That inspection tool from the original START was dropped in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration before the Obama negotiating team arrived. It might have been useful, but its not essential to verification of this treaty because it has simpler limits on total strategic weapons deployments than the START I did. If Romney is really concerned about it, he should have been writing opeds criticizing the Bush administration two years ago.

The fact is that without New START there are no U.S. “boots on the ground” at Russian nuclear sites. New START allows up to 18 on-site inspections per year, including direct monitoring of Russian nuclear warheads, something no treaty has allowed before.

Moreover, the original START’s 28 inspections had to cover 70 facilities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, as the Soviet nuclear complex was spread across these four now-independent nations. Today, all former Soviet nuclear weapons and facilities have been centralized in Russia, and New START’s 18 inspections need to cover only 35 Russian sites.

Without New START, there is zero chance we can limit Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons.

Romney complains that New START only limits strategic nuclear weapons not tactical nuclear weapons. True. New START limits the far more dangerous strategic nuclear weapons that can be delivered anywhere in the world within an hour. It is naive to suggest that Obama should have tried for the first time in history to convince Russia to limit tactical nuclear weapons when he had less than a year to negotiate a replacement treaty to START I, which expired on Dec. 5, 2009.

Romney also claims these battlefield bombs give Russia an “advantage.” Baloney. Most of Russia’s tactical nuclear bombs are in disrepair, they are in deep storage, and they cannot be delivered at intercontinental distances. The United States has more than enough nuclear and conventional firepower to deter a nuclear attack from Russia or any other nuclear-armed country. (And by the way, other than Russia, no other potential U.S. nuclear adversary has more than 40 warheads on strategic ballistic missiles, and that’s China.) To suggest that Russia would “deploy” short-range nuclear bombs on subs to “threaten the U.S. at home,” as Romney does in his oped, is to engage in some fanciful fear-mongering.

To the extent we should be concerned about Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons — and we should be because they are a target for nuclear terrorism — we should want to ratify New START so we can move on to further talks with Russia on all types of nuclear weapons (strategic and nonstrategic, deployed and nondeployed) as the Obama administration has proposed. By delaying or killing New START, we will never convince the Russians to reduce their old tactical nuclear weapons.

Mitt Romney needs to do his homework before he weighs in on New START again.

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