My criticism of the New START treaty generated both praise and disparagement. Sen. Richard Lugar’s thoughtful critique of my position deserves further discussion.
1. New START does limit U.S. missile-defense options. First, New START’s preamble not only references missile defense, it accedes to Russia’s insistence that there is an interrelationship between strategic offensive weapons and missile defense. While the Bush administration steadfastly refused to accept this Russian position, the Obama administration bows to it. The statement of interrelationship in the preamble, in addition to the specific missile-defense measures in the body of the treaty, amount to a major concession to Russia.
The treaty’s advocates dismiss the preamble reference as non-binding. But the significance of including missile-defense provisions in an offensive-weapons treaty is not lost on either signatory. Further, the Russians assert that the preamble does indeed constitute a binding limit on our missile-defense program, both in their Unilateral Statement and in subsequent public statements. Gen. Yevgeniy Buzinskiy, who served as the chief of the International Treaty Directorate in the Russian Ministry of Defense during the treaty’s negotiations, insists that any increase in our ABM system could be claimed as a breach of the treaty. Such ambiguity and pressure, and fear of being accused of violating the treaty, could strongly restrain American presidents from aggressively developing and deploying missile defense. The 1972 ABM Treaty provides historical precedent for such a chilling effect: Fearful that U.S. theater-missile-defense systems would be viewed as violating the treaty, we pulled back from realizing the full potential of such systems.
Further, the treaty prohibits our conversion of ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers for the launching of defensive interceptors. Such conversions may well not be part of the Obama administration’s current plans, but they could surely be part of a subsequent administration’s. Past missile-defense agency directors and naval planners have objected to precluding SLBM-launcher conversions, capable as they could be of defending America and our allies from diverse and undisclosed locations. Such conversions were prohibited by the ABM Treaty during the Cold War — a treaty from which we have withdrawn — but the Obama administration is consenting to their renewed prohibition by New START. Under its terms, there could be an average of four or more SLBM tubes on each of our strategic submarines that no longer contain ballistic missiles but may not be converted for defensive interceptors, and so are empty.