Politics & Policy

New Start: Romney Is Right

Mitt Romney caused a furor last week when he wrote a Washington Post op-ed opposing the New Start treaty. Democrats and liberal commentators rushed to accuse Romney of bad-faith politics, of ignorance, and of a dangerous extremism. He’ll never get into the Council on Foreign Relations now.

The squealing is a sign that Romney hit his target: New Start is a bad deal for the United States, and the Senate should send the administration back to the negotiating table.

Romney pointed out that the linkage in the preamble of the treaty between strategic offensive weapons and missile defenses could limit our defenses. His critics scoff, It’s just a meaningless preamble. They should tell that to the Russians. The Russians believe that if we increase our strategic defenses, we are in violation of the treaty and that they will be justified in withdrawing from it. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said, “Linkage to missile defense is clearly spelled out in the accord and is legally binding.” Members of the Duma have said the same thing.

The Obama administration and the Russians have vastly different interpretations of what the treaty does on this score, or at least that’s what the Obama team says now. There’s every reason to believe that once the treaty is ratified by the Senate, the administration will implicitly accede to the Russian view and will, in fact, have traded away our ability to develop missile defenses for this pitiful piece of parchment. (President Obama’s recess appointment of fierce missile-defense critic Philip Coyle to a slot at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is another sign of just how little use he has for missile defense.)

The body of the treaty, by the way, explicitly crimps missile defense. It contains a prohibition on the conversion of ICBM silos for missile interceptors and also rules out using submarine launchers for this purpose. The treaty’s defenders say this doesn’t matter, because there are no current plans to put more ICBM silos or submarine launchers to this use. Of course, this may be something we’d want to do in the future, and, in fact, a director of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and senior Navy officers expressed interest in such plans in the past.

Romney noted that the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) under the treaty has broad powers to make changes to it in secret. His critics look skyward in exasperation, Doesn’t he realize prior treaties had such commissions? Yes, Start I had a similar commission. And it did indeed make material changes to the treaty without Senate consent. The BCC has even more discretion. It could make important changes without the Senate having any say whatsoever.

Romney argues that the Russians get a better deal on the treaty’s force limits than we do. Can’t Romney read? his critics wonder: The same limit on deployed launchers (700) and warheads (1,550) applies to each side. But these limits have different consequences for each side. The Russians already have fewer than 700 launchers, and the number is inevitably going lower — probably as far down as the low hundreds, according to congressional testimony of arms-control expert Keith Payne of Missouri State University. We have about 850 launchers, so, as a practical matter, this limit affects only us.

Oh, Romney’s critics reply, but the Russians have more warheads, so that limit bites more against them. This, too, is wrong-headed. When a country’s deployed launchers go down, its deployed warheads go down as well. So the number of Russian warheads was inevitably going to decline. But one way for the Russians to check this trend is through MIRVing — putting multiple warheads on one launcher. As it happens, New Start encourages MIRVing by removing the limits on it established by the old Start treaty.

Similarly, as Romney wrote, the new treaty counts a bomber as one weapon no matter how many warheads are loaded onto it. The Russians, unlike us, have decided to start a new heavy-bomber program — once again, the treaty is laxest in just the area most convenient to the Russians. Notably, the Russian press has been reporting that Moscow will game the treaty to retain 2,100 deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

This gets to the crux of the matter: The treaty imposes a mutually agreed upon ceiling (in theory) on both sides, but it forces new reductions only from us. For those in thrall to arms-control theology, this is the product of brilliant negotiation. For anyone who can truly calculate our interests, it’s a travesty. All honor to Mitt Romney for setting out the case against the treaty so cogently. We hope Senate Republicans are listening.


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