The Threat of New START
New START logic: Russia poses no military threat, but we need New START immediately to protect us from the Russian military threat.


When the New START treaty was signed in early April 2010, Obama- administration officials were eager to rush the treaty through the Senate ratification process. Leading Senate Democrats initially insisted that the new treaty should be ratified almost immediately. The closer some Republican senators looked, however, the more flaws they found in it. Now, seven months later, only a few Republican senators have voiced support for the treaty; since ratification requires a two-thirds vote, that leaves New START several votes shy. Worse yet for New START, there will be six additional Republicans in the Senate come January. Consequently, the administration is pressing hard for the Senate to give its consent to the treaty now — before the six Democrats who lost give way to their Republican successors.

According to the administration, waiting to consider New START until the newly elected senators have been seated would further delay implementation of the treaty’s verification provisions; thus the United States would forgo for that much longer the new information about Russia’s deadly nuclear forces that will become available via those provisions. Such a delay, says the administration, could endanger U.S. security, and so the lame-duck Senate must act.

The administration’s claim about the urgent need to pass New START and initiate its verification provisions, however, blatantly contradicts the administration’s own public statements about the absence of any Russian military threat to us or our allies. It is also belied by the very fact that the administration finds acceptable New START’s many loopholes and lapses in verification procedures.

The treaty’s force limits leave enormous opportunity for Russian circumvention, and, according to the open Russian press, they require only the United States to make reductions — not Russia as well. The treaty omits any limitation whatsoever on nuclear cruise missiles deployed on ships or submarines at a time when Russia apparently is moving forward with such weapons. And the Russian Duma committee responsible for treaties has just indicated that New START’s force ceilings do not apply to future Russian rail-mobile ICBMs. These are large loopholes indeed.

In addition, compared to those of its predecessor, the 1991 START, New START’s verification measures are extremely weak. Among many problems, it abandons the mobile-missile verification regime of START I, including the provision for continuous monitoring at final-assembly plants for Russian mobile missiles. It virtually guarantees that we will not get useful performance data from Russian ballistic-missile flight tests, leaving us with limited insight into the performance characteristics of new Russian weapons — including such basic items as range and warhead payload. It shifts much of the burden of verification to aged National Technical Means satellites and other sensors, and allows Russia’s deployed mobile missiles to be concealed. Several Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee rightly concluded that “verification in this treaty is very weak.” Sen. Kit Bond (R., Mo.) observed, “This is one that turns President Reagan’s theory of trust but verify on its head. We will trust them even though we can’t verify it.”