New START: Abandoning Missile Defense
Questions abound concerning the Obama administration's nuclear-weapons-reduction treaty.


The Obama administration is heralding the New START Treaty — a bilateral treaty with Russia, signed on April 8 in Prague — as a major accomplishment. But now that leading national-security experts have had time to review the pact closely, it’s starting to get a lot of criticism. There is grave concern, not just with some of the treaty’s language, but also with some of the backroom deals and promises made during the negotiations.

For the treaty to take effect, the Senate must ratify it with a two-thirds vote, and President Obama wants that to happen before the November elections. But some senators have been hesitant; they have even considered requesting to see the treaty-negotiations protocol — the first draft of the document — which should shed light on what took place.

Dimitri K. Simes, a noted Kremlinologist, president of the Nixon Center, and publisher of The National Interest, reports that high-ranking Russians told him they were assured by senior American officials during negotiations that there was no need to put restrictive language on missile defense in the treaty. Why? Because, the American officials argued, the Obama administration has no intention of moving forward with strategic missile defense. Indeed, Simes writes, U.S. officials argued that explicit provisions restricting U.S. missile defense would be counterproductive as well as unnecessary, since they could cause the Senate to block ratification.

Despite this effort to convince the Russians that there was no need to limit missile defense, and despite the Obama administration’s repeated assurances to the American public that START would not limit missile defense, the treaty in fact severely limits missile defense, as Baker Spring, a strategic-weapons analyst at the Heritage Foundation, points out. The language in the preamble establishes a logic that missile-defense capabilities must come down in coordination with reductions in offensive strategic weapons. Otherwise, the treaty states, effective defenses will call into question the “viability and effectiveness” of offensive strategic weapons.

What’s wrong with that? Last December, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin explained that if the U.S. goes forward with missile defenses and feels more “secure,” it will become more “aggressive” and “do whatever it wants.” That is, Russia does not want U.S. defenses to upset or undermine the strategic balance of terror.
Upon signing the treaty, Russia issued a statement threatening to withdraw if the U.S. builds up its defenses. Simes points out that, inside Russia, the treaty is perceived as a major success — so much so that the Kremlin told the Russian media not to praise it in order not to spook the Americans.