7/26/2010 - Eight Problems With the New START

This Op-Ed was posted originally at NRO on 7/26/2010; it is entitled Eight Problems With the New START

My criticism of the New START treaty generated both praise and disparagement. Sen. Richard Lugar’s thoughtful critique of my position deserves further discussion.

1. New START does limit U.S. missile-defense options. First, New START’s preamble not only references missile defense, it accedes to Russia’s insistence that there is an interrelationship between strategic offensive weapons and missile defense. While the Bush administration steadfastly refused to accept this Russian position, the Obama administration bows to it. The statement of interrelationship in the preamble, in addition to the specific missile-defense measures in the body of the treaty, amount to a major concession to Russia.

The treaty’s advocates dismiss the preamble reference as non-binding. But the significance of including missile-defense provisions in an offensive-weapons treaty is not lost on either signatory. Further, the Russians assert that the preamble does indeed constitute a binding limit on our missile-defense program, both in their Unilateral Statement and in subsequent public statements. Gen. Yevgeniy Buzinskiy, who served as the chief of the International Treaty Directorate in the Russian Ministry of Defense during the treaty’s negotiations, insists that any increase in our ABM system could be claimed as a breach of the treaty. Such ambiguity and pressure, and fear of being accused of violating the treaty, could strongly restrain American presidents from aggressively developing and deploying missile defense. The 1972 ABM Treaty provides historical precedent for such a chilling effect: Fearful that U.S. theater-missile-defense systems would be viewed as violating the treaty, we pulled back from realizing the full potential of such systems.

Further, the treaty prohibits our conversion of ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers for the launching of defensive interceptors. Such conversions may well not be part of the Obama administration’s current plans, but they could surely be part of a subsequent administration’s. Past missile-defense agency directors and naval planners have objected to precluding SLBM-launcher conversions, capable as they could be of defending America and our allies from diverse and undisclosed locations. Such conversions were prohibited by the ABM Treaty during the Cold War — a treaty from which we have withdrawn — but the Obama administration is consenting to their renewed prohibition by New START. Under its terms, there could be an average of four or more SLBM tubes on each of our strategic submarines that no longer contain ballistic missiles but may not be converted for defensive interceptors, and so are empty.

The sixth agreed statement of the treaty’s protocol suggests that telemetry data on missiles governed by the treaty is not to be used for strategic-missile-defense purposes. In the long term, agreeing to this limitation could prove to have been very short-sighted.

Finally, treaty analysts at the Heritage Foundation have opined that “the most serious threat to missile defense in the New START treaty is contained in the power given to the Treaty compliance forum, the Bilateral Consultative Commission. . . . Missile defense is directly within the purview of the BCC.” Treaty proponents note that substantive changes to the treaty cannot be made by the BCC. But the BCC can — without Senate advice and consent — make changes to the treaty’s definitions and agreed statements, including those involving missile defense. The treaty Protocol assigns to BCC the defining of missile defense and key terms relating to the conversion of ICBM silos for defensive interceptors. An administration that wished to further limit missile defense without the advice and consent of the Senate could do so through the BCC. In the past, under START I, the JCIC, a body comparable to the BCC, did indeed make substantive changes to that treaty’s terms without Senate consent.

2. We should not countenance Russia’s ten-to-one tactical-nuclear-weapons advantage. These weapons constitute a real threat to our forces abroad, and to our allies in Europe and Asia. Russian-military spokesmen have asserted that they will rely on their tactical nuclear weapons to dominate regional or local conflicts near their borders. Cynically, they call the use of such weapons “de-escalating” by reasoning that it would end a conflict promptly on Russian terms.

In signing the 2002 Moscow Treaty, we similarly ignored Russia’s tactical-nuclear-weapons advantage. We accepted it because: 1) the treaty placed no limits on our number of launchers — we could have added our own tactical nuclear capabilities relatively easily; 2) the treaty was flexible regarding strategic nuclear weapons; and 3) Russia was believed to be moving toward responsible global citizenship. But under New START, launchers are strictly limited and flexibility is removed, while Russia has embarked upon a path reminiscent of its Cold War past.

Note also that Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons, including nuclear-armed cruise missiles, could be deployed on Russia’s submarine fleet — an option specifically raised by the deputy chief of the Russian navy, Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev — thereby posing a direct threat to the United States. And tactical nukes can be refabricated or remanufactured for strategic objectives.

3. Under New START, America gives and Russia gets. Prior to the New START negotiations, the Russian press projected that by 2012, Russia would have fewer than 500 launchers and 1,500 strategic nuclear weapons (using New START counting rules) because of the aging of its systems. The New START limits therefore do not require a change of course for Russia; with regard to launcher limits, Russian officials have confirmed that they will not need to make any reductions whatsoever. While New START will not require Russia to reduce its capabilities, the United States will have to make what are effectively unilateral reductions. The Obama administration heralds this as a negotiating achievement.

4. Counting multiple-warhead bombers as only one warhead, as New START does, is a problem for America, not a plus. Yes, we currently have more long-range bombers than the Russians. But Russia has embarked on at least one new long-range bomber program. Russia also is developing a new long-range air-launched nuclear cruise missile. We, on the other hand, are doing neither. Russia will have modern bombers and modern missiles; we will not. It should come as no surprise that they are happy to undercount nuclear warheads on bombers.

Failing to count multiple warheads on bombers makes the treaty’s announced warhead limits virtually meaningless in any case: Russia can effectively escape the limit of 1,550 by deploying long-range bombers with many nuclear weapons.

5. The absence of any mention of rail-based launchers should be remedied. U.S. advocates of the treaty say that if Russia again inaugurates a rail program, as some articles in the Russian press have suggested it might, rail-mobile ICBMs would count toward the treaty’s arsenal limits; opponents say that no treaty language supports such an interpretation. Russian commentators have said that rail-based systems would be discussed by the BCC. Such ambiguity should be resolved before the treaty is approved, not after.

6. Contrary to our long-held policy objectives, New START gives Russia an incentive to MIRV its weapons — that is, equip single ballistic missiles to deliver warheads to different targets. START I, on the other hand, limited the weight of ballistic missiles as well as MIRV testing and deployment, and by doing so significantly restrained MIRVing. Because all these limits are absent in New START, virtually the entire Russian nuclear-missile arsenal could be MIRVed. This would reverse decades of progress toward reducing highly MIRVed ICBMs and could lead to questions about Russian compliance with the treaty’s stated nuclear-weapon limit.

7. The New START verification program is inadequate. Examples are numerous. Whereas under prior treaties, the destruction of every Russian mobile ICBM and launcher could be witnessed by an American observer, under New START we are permitted to inspect only half of the debris of destroyed ICBMs. Another example: Russia is required to provide telemetry data on ballistic flight tests for only five missiles, not all of them. Telemetry data is used by the United States to calculate the number of reentry vehicles or warheads the Russian missiles can carry. Russia can now select telemetry from only its old missile programs for American eyes. And Russia has a host of new missile programs under way, about which we could be entirely blind. Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation from 2002 to 2009, is highly critical of New START’s verification provisions, noting that these are particularly important because the Russians “have violated every agreement we have ever had with them.”

8. Russia has succeeded in restricting not only our strategic nuclear capacity and missile-defense program but also our strategic conventional capability. Any of our existing land- or submarine-based launchers fitted with conventional weapons would count toward New START’s launcher limits. Assuming that we will reserve some of these launchers for conventional weapons, our number of strategic nuclear launchers will actually have to be lower than the treaty’s ceiling.

Such conventional weapons give us the capability to strike time-urgent targets with high-explosive warheads. If the Clinton administration had had such a system in 1998, it could have launched a single conventionally armed ICBM that would have reached Osama bin Laden in less than 30 minutes. Instead, it launched sea-based cruise missiles, which took hours to reach their target — during which time bin Laden departed the target area.


New START is a major victory for Russia. One treaty observer, having completed a line-by-line analysis of the agreement, concluded that every single provision favors Russia or is neutral; not one favors the United States.

Like most Americans, I believe that the world would be safer if there were no weapons of mass destruction. But I also believe that the world is safer if America is strong. In fact, the stronger we are relative to nations like Russia, the safer the world is.

I also believe that missile defense is an urgent priority that we must not allow to be restricted.

New START, as currently drafted, should not be approved by the Senate.

— Mitt Romney


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