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Don’t START


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The U.S. Senate should reject the new START treaty. It has no upside for the United States, is shot through with flaws, and will limit our defenses. The treaty represents international relations as gesture, and is based on President Obama’s naïve belief that if we are seen as limiting ourselves, other nations will more readily join us in persuading rogue states to abandon their nuclear ambitions.

The treaty is advertised as a 30 percent cut in Russian and American warheads, down to 1,550 on each side. This is spin. Under the 2002 Bush-Putin Treaty of Moscow, Russia and the United States agreed to cut their arsenals to a range of 2,200 to 1,700 warheads each. The new START treaty is a cut of only 150 warheads from the low end of that range, and even this cut is illusory (read on).

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The treaty reduces the number of permitted deployed delivery vehicles — missiles, bombers, and submarines — to 700, about half the previous level. This is just as meaningless. The Russians are already beneath this number. The aging of their arsenal, coupled with economic constraints, means that they couldn’t go higher, new START treaty or no.

On the terms Democrats invoked to critique the Treaty of Moscow, Obama’s START treaty is sorely lacking. They pointed out that it only limited deployed weapons and didn’t destroy stockpiles — neither does the new START. They (quite reasonably) complained that it didn’t affect Russia’s advantage in tactical nuclear weapons — neither does the new START. Of course, Joe Biden and John Kerry, who leveled all these criticisms at the Treaty of Moscow, won’t return to them now. Such is the course of partisan hypocrisy. But it does not change the fact that there are serious flaws in the new START.

Arms-controls mavens who have combed through it carefully report astonishing gaps. The treaty doesn’t identify or define — and therefore doesn’t limit — entire categories of potential strategic nuclear weapons, including rail-mobile ICBMs, ICBMs on surface ships, air-launched ICBMs, and long-range sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles. These were all covered by language in the previous START treaty; that language is missing in the new START. The Russians have openly discussed pursuing some of these now uncounted and uncontrolled weapons systems.

For decades, it’s been arms-control dogma that the practice of “MIRVing,” or putting multiple warheads on one launcher, is destabilizing. By removing the old START limits on the number of warheads per missile, while at the same time capping the number of launchers, the new treaty actually encourages MIRVing; and the Russians are moving in that direction. Also, the new treaty counts a bomber as one weapon, no matter how many warheads are loaded on it. This rule happens to suit Moscow’s needs precisely as it seeks to maintain its warhead numbers while lowering its number of launchers; indeed, the Russian press already is reporting that under the new treaty Russia actually will retain 2,100 strategic nuclear warheads — hundreds above the supposed new START limit. 



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