Politics & Policy

Fix the Treaty

There are real issues with New START that must be addressed.

Earlier this month, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney raised a number of questions about the wisdom of the New START treaty in a Washington Post op-ed. In response, the treaty’s proponents unfortunately shed more heat than light on the matter, attacking Romney personally for raising “hyperbolic” and “discredited” objections, for “politicizing” the arms-control process, and, of course, for being ill-informed. (A notable exception was the response by Steve Pifer and Strobe Talbott, which acknowledged the issues Romney raised and sought to refute them without resorting to, well, hyperbole.)

These same proponents have repeatedly cited support for the treaty from former senior officials in Republican administrations, such as James Schlesinger, Henry Kissinger, and Stephen Hadley, in an effort to discredit or marginalize Romney. But while these officials support the treaty, Schlesinger, Kissinger, and Hadley have all raised serious questions, including questions about its limitations on missile defenses and future conventional prompt-global-strike (PGS) capabilities. All expressed concern about the linkage between strategic offensive systems and missile defenses that the treaty reestablishes. Secretary Kissinger, for example, stated that he would “have preferred to avoid prohibiting the use of missile launching sites for strategic defense as unnecessarily limiting strategic options of a future president.” Other witnesses have testified that the treaty contains ambiguities that would permit conflicting interpretations regarding the definition and accountability of rail-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and that the treaty has shortcomings on verification and transparency more broadly.

Moreover, had some of the Romney critics attended the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on June 24, they would have heard the authors — both career government civil servants — raise all of the above-mentioned issues, as well as the modernization issues that were addressed in the report of the Strategic Posture Commission. In addition, they expressed worries about the future viability of a resilient triad of nuclear forces (ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and Bombers) under the treaty’s relatively low launcher limit — a limit that will require the U.S., but not Russia, to dismantle launchers.

We continue to believe that these serious issues must be addressed in a thorough deliberative process — like those that accompanied INF, START I and II, and the 2002 Moscow Treaty — rather than dismissed as political partisanship.

There are clear and straightforward ways to deal with most of the concerns that have been raised by Romney and other treaty critics. As a first step, the administration should provide the treaty’s negotiating record on the key points of contention. This will allow the Senate to judge the intent of the parties and to understand better the reasons the treaty emerged as it did. It will also help the Senate in crafting an instrument of ratification that protects future U.S. security needs. For instance, if the rail-mobile-ICBM loophole is as minor a question as proponents claim, it can easily be resolved by either joint statements (by the U.S. and Russian governments) or a unilateral Russian statement that they agree that any new rail-mobile systems will be accountable under the treaty. This would seem especially necessary given press accounts that the State Department’s report on Russia’s compliance with the previous version of START, recently delivered to the Senate, suggest some disputes about treaty violations that remained unresolved at the time the treaty expired in December 2009.

Similarly, the Senate can make clear that it rejects any interpretation of the treaty that would further limit U.S. missile defenses and that, in future arms agreements, missile defenses and conventionally armed strategic weapons will not be constrained. Finally, as Senator Kyl has made clear, the administration’s commitment to modernization of the nuclear force and follow-on platforms (like the air-launched cruise missile for B-52H bombers) must be made manifest in appropriations and the FY 2012 budget.

Up until now, perhaps out of fear of the Russian reaction, the administration and its supporters in the Senate have been unwilling to acknowledge that there are any problems with the treaty and have been totally resistant to any fixes — a position that seems very difficult to square with the Senate’s constitutional responsibilities in treaty-making. The fixes we have identified are straightforward, logical, and easy to understand. They are also needed to protect U.S. security. The Senate must be more than a rubber stamp if U.S. interests are to be protected.

– Eric Edelman, a distinguished fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, was undersecretary of defense for policy from 2005 to 2009. Robert Joseph, a senior scholar at the National Institute for Public Policy, was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security from 2005 to 2007.


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