Politics & Policy

The Treaty Is MAD

New START revives the policy of mutually assured destruction.

The nuclear-weapons treaty President Obama has negotiated with the Russians may help him make America’s erstwhile Cold War adversary happy, but it won’t help protect us from the rogue nations that threaten the United States today.

If ratified, the New START treaty would force the U.S. to agree to strategic-nuclear-weapons parity with the direct descendant of a nation that threatened our country’s existence for decades. Who would have thought in the year 2010 the United States would be renewing its Cold War–era policy of mutually assured destruction with Russia?

#ad#MAD was a frightening policy that kept two superpowers paralyzed in a nuclear game of chicken. Both countries knew they would be destroyed if they attacked first, and so neither country attacked. But it’s not a one-on-one game anymore. The U.S. faces threats from China, Iran, Syria, and North Korea in addition to Russia, and the treaty will have no effect on the nuclear-arms-building capabilities of these countries. And New START could hamper our ability to improve our missile-defense system — leaving us unable to destroy more than a handful of missiles at a time and vulnerable to attacks from around the globe.

Additionally, the treaty favors Russia when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons, which are developed for use on the battlefield. Russia’s stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons, which can be affixed to rockets, submarines, and bomber planes, outnumbers the United States’ by a ratio of 10:1. These are not covered by the treaty — New START covers only strategic, long-range, high-yield nuclear weapons — leaving Russia able to keep its current advantage and produce more of these weapons at will.

New START also fails on another important front: It doesn’t recognize the fact that Russia and the United States play very different roles in the world. Russia is a threat to many and a protector of none. The United States, on the other hand, is a threat to none and a protector of many. More than 30 nations, many in the former Soviet bloc, depend on the U.S. for their security. The New START treaty does not reflect that obligation. It ignores it.

It’s no secret that the Russians do not want the United States or her allies to be protected by missile defense, and believe that New START forbids further development of missile defense. Last December, in the midst of the treaty’s negotiations, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, “By building such an umbrella over themselves, our partners [the U.S.] could feel themselves fully secure and will do whatever they want, which upsets the balance and the aggressiveness immediately increases in real politics and economics.” After the treaty was signed, the Russians effectively declared victory on the matter. Their government issued a statement that the treaty “can operate and be viable only if the United States refrains from developing its missile defense capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively.”


President Obama insists this is not the case, but he and the Russians can’t have it both ways: New START either permits the United States to expand its missile-defense capability or does not.

The treaty’s negotiating records would provide some much-needed clarity. The Obama administration, however, is refusing to provide them to the Senate. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed a request for them during a recent Senate Foreign Relations hearing. She claimed that negotiating records haven’t been provided “going back to, I think, President Washington.”


This is not accurate; precedent exists for giving the Senate access to review these records. At the request of Sen. Sam Nunn (D., Ga.), negotiating records were provided to the Senate for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union. What is the administration trying to hide? No action should be taken toward ratifying the New START treaty until the White House provides these documents.

The ability to protect ourselves and our allies is not an insignificant matter to be hidden away. It wasn’t long ago that Russia was taking hostile action against our friend Georgia and wielding its energy as a weapon against its neighbors.

#page#Even with those events in recent memory, Foreign Relations chairman Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is ushering the treaty through the Senate, could not fathom why the United States would want the ability to defeat Russian missiles. During the same hearing at which Clinton brushed aside the request for the negotiating records, I asked Kerry, “Is it not desirable for us to have a missile-defense system that renders their threat useless?”


He said, “I don’t personally think so, no.”


#ad#In his March 1983 “Star Wars” speech, Ronald Reagan called upon members of the scientific community “to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace: to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.” The goal of New START, by contrast, is to ensure that the U.S. and Russia have an equal capacity to destroy each other.

Of course, the world has changed dramatically since Reagan gave that speech. Today, the United States must be vigilant about attacks that could come from many different points on the globe, not just Russia. Nations like Iran, Syria, and North Korea pose the greatest nuclear threat to the United States. New START dampens our ability to defend against missile attacks and makes America and her allies vulnerable to those rogue nations. It would be a mistake for the Senate to ratify it.

— Jim DeMint is a U.S. senator from South Carolina.

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