The weaknesses of President Obama’s New START treaty with Russia are finally starting to surface in Washington. On Monday, Mitt Romney weighed in against the treaty in a Washington Post column. The former Massachusetts governor raised concerns previously aired by Amb. John Bolton (in National Review), by the Heritage Foundation’s Dr. Kim Holmes, and — in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — by former undersecretaries of state and defense Bob Joseph and Eric Edelman.
Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), reacted with a column that, after attacking Romney personally, merely ignored or dismissed (rather than disproved) Romney’s objections.
First and foremost, Romney objected to START on the grounds that it would impede America’s ability to complete a global ballistic-missile-defense system. The evidence supporting this concern is overwhelming. Article Five of the treaty explicitly prohibits the conversion of former ICBM silos to the purpose of missile defense; the Russians have publicly stated that the treaty limits America’s discretion to complete ballistic-missile defense, and the preamble of the treaty explicitly links reductions in offensive capability to reductions in defensive systems.
Those who think the preamble unimportant should consider the words of Russian general Yevgeniy Buzinsky, chief of the International Treaty Directorate in the Russian Defense Ministry: “This [treaty language on missile defense in the preamble] makes it possible for us, in case the Americans increase their strategic ABM system, to claim that they are not observing the [terms] of the treaty.”
Senator Kerry’s response not only fails to answer these concerns, it actually lends credibility to them. Kerry states that the preamble to the treaty is not binding by itself and denies that the treaty “impedes our ability to build missile defense against attacks from rogue countries.” He does not say that START would leave America free to construct a missile-defense system that could be used against Russian nuclear missiles.
And that’s the crux of the matter. There is powerful evidence — especially in the context of the president’s decision last year, at Russia’s insistence, to abandon the Polish and Czech missile-defense bases — that the treaty reflects an agreement that the United States will not build a missile-defense system that could be used against Russia. The implications of that agreement go far beyond America’s relationship with Russia, because it is impossible to build a robust missile defense against, for example, Iran, which could not also be used against Russian missiles. So to the extent that START limits missile defense against Russia, it must and will narrow the options we have to defend against Iran, and, for that matter, North Korea.
That is a key point that Romney and others are making. The Senate simply must demand a satisfactory answer. Ballistic-missile defense may be the most important defensive system the U.S. is building today. Even if the New START agreement were otherwise better than it is, the benefits would not come close to justifying any sacrifice in America’s ability to defend itself against nuclear missiles.