Politics & Policy

Skeptical of New START

Politicians weigh in on the president’s arms-control treaty.

Newt Gingrigh, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and John Thune explain their positions on New START to National Review Online.


1. Simply as a matter of common sense, since U.S. and Russian officials openly disagree about what the treaty even means, we should not ratify a treaty when there is no consensus on its meaning between the parties.

2. Iran is doggedly pursuing nuclear weapons and the missiles to launch them. This would give that regime, whose leaders ascribe to the ideology of radical Islamism, the ability to carry out the unthinkable. Now is not the time to ratify an arms-control treaty without ironclad assurances that the U.S. can deploy a comprehensive missile-defense system to protect America and our allies.

3. The unclassified portion of a State Department report released a few days ago confirms that the Russians have been in violation of key international agreements involving their chemical and biological weapons.

4. Due to the rapidly growing threat from rogue states, the Obama administration must make ironclad commitments to the U.S. Senate that the U.S. will modernize our nuclear forces, will deploy systems amply capable of delivering the nuclear weapons, and will move forward with a comprehensive missile-defense system to protect the American people and our allies — and the Russians must know of these commitments and agree that they will not affect their own obligations under the treaty. Unless this happens, the treaty should not be ratified.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.


The New START treaty raises a number of serious concerns. It is premised on the dangerous and naïve belief that cuts in our nuclear weapons will somehow discourage proliferation by other regimes, when in fact the exact opposite result is more likely. At a time when nuclear-proliferation threats are growing, this treaty is a distraction from more pressing priorities such as Iran and North Korea. The treaty also places the U.S. and Russia on equal footing, which has negative implications for our nuclear arsenal and our ability to meet our obligations to allies who depend on our security guarantees.

Apart from these broader strategic misgivings, there are numerous treaty provisions that merit Senate scrutiny and skepticism. For example, the treaty limits our missile-defense programs, including our ability to convert offensive missile launchers into defensive interceptors. This explicit constraint is backed by two implied constraints: the treaty’s preamble language linking strategic offensive and defensive arms, and Russia’s standing threat to withdraw from the treaty if we develop our missile-defense capabilities. President Obama has it backwards: America should be strengthening its missile defenses against strategic attacks, not weakening them. The Senate should formally state that the U.S. will not accept limits on current and future missile-defense programs.

Another example concerns the treaty’s counting rules on warheads and delivery systems, which are vague and may very well advantage Russia. The Senate should insist on clear counting rules.

Additionally, the Senate should check the authority of the Bilateral Consultative Commission to implement and monitor the treaty. The treaty grants an unacceptable delegation of authority to the commission to resolve ambiguities and verification issues. The treaty also contains monitoring gaps that should be closed, given Russia’s history of cheating on treaties. There’s no need to repeal the sturdy maxim to “trust but verify.”

It is clear that President Obama wants America to be popular and well liked around the world, especially by President Medvedev, but I think it’s more important to be respected. The New START treaty, touted by proponents as proof that the “reset button” is working, favors Russia more than it favors us. Moscow almost certainly views this lopsided treaty as a sign of American weakness, which will only encourage Russia to seek additional gains in the bilateral relationship. The Senate can play an important role in this context by reviewing the treaty with great care and deliberation.

Tim Pawlenty is governor of Minnesota.


Given President Obama’s glaring domestic-policy missteps, it is understandable that the public has largely been blind to his foreign-policy failings. The president’s New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia could be his worst foreign-policy mistake yet.

New START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferating rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. It explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile-defense sites. And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty if it believes that the United States has significantly increased its missile-defense capability.

New START also gives Russia a massive nuclear-weapons advantage over the United States. Obama heralds a reduction in strategic weapons from approximately 2,200 to 1,550 but fails to mention that Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella.

By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiated. In a world where nuclear weapons are proliferating, America’s missile-defense shield must not be compromised. As currently drafted, New START is a non-starter.

Mitt Romney is a former governor of Massachusetts.


The treaty that the president and his administration negotiated represents a missed opportunity. Instead of providing clarity, New START creates troubling ambiguities about vital U.S. national-security interests such as missile defense and maintaining an effective nuclear triad of bombers, submarines, and ICBMs. As it stands now, the treaty is deeply flawed.

John Thune represents South Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

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