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On New START, the White House Is Playing a Shell Game



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One of the many sticking points delaying Senate approval of the New START treaty has been concern over the treaty’s potential negative effect on U.S. missile defenses. Now comes news that the Obama administration did, indeed, engage in secret talks with the Russians earlier this year regarding missile defense — something previously denied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Of course, the administration has been in denial about missile defense since the day President Obama signed the flawed pact. Before the ink was dry, the Russians announced they would withdraw from New START in the event of “a build-up in the missile defense system capabilities of the United States of America such that it would give rise to a threat to the strategic nuclear force potential of the Russian Federation.” The administration lamely responded that it “intends to continue improving and deploying its missile defense systems in order to defend itself against limited attack.”

So that there would be no doubt of Moscow’s understanding of the agreement, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated that “linkage to missile defense is clearly spelled out in the accord and is legally binding.” The administration countered, “This preambular language is not legally binding.”

It seems that the administration and its Senate allies are willing to say anything to get the 67 votes needed for ratification. Any day now, we may hear Harry Reid announce that “we have to ratify this treaty so that you can find out what is in it.”

The administration is playing a shell game here. It promises on one hand that it will not agree to any limitations or constraints on U.S. missile defenses, but on the other hand that the U.S. will take no action that will affect the strategic balance with Russia. The fact is, any missile-defense system capable of defending America and its allies against non-Russian ballistic missiles will necessarily affect the strategic balance with Russia. One cannot exist without the other.

That’s why the administration’s protestations to the contrary sound like doublespeak. And now the revelation of secret missile-defense negotiations raises even more questions about the White House’s plans for missile defense in a post–New START world.

The Senate needs to get to the bottom of this. Lawmakers must have a full understanding of how this treaty will affect U.S. missile defenses before it votes on it. Senators should not let themselves be stampeded into making uninformed decisions on existential issues regarding the U.S. nuclear arsenal and missile defenses in a truncated lame-duck session.

Steven Groves is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow in international affairs at the Heritage Foundation.



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