Failures of the New START

November 20, 2012 --

Blake Day, Taiwan

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On April 8th, 2010 President Barack Obama signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russian Federation Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The treaty is called “New START”: START for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and ‘New’ because this treaty is an updated version of previous nuclear arms reduction treaties between the United States and Russia. The United States Senate then ratified the treaty on December 22nd, 2010. The treaty needed 67 votes in order to be ratified and instead received 71. All 56 Democratic senators voted for ratification of the treaty, as well as both independent senators and 13 republican senators who crossed party lines to vote for ratification of the treaty. President Obama completed the ratification process of the treaty by signing the document on February 2nd, 2011.

Obama and Putin during New START talks. Image from The Examiner.

Despite the overwhelming support for New START, this treaty needs to be seriously reconsidered due to its crippling effect on the United States. The whole purpose of the treaty is to reduce nuclear weapons between the United States and Russia and to send a message to rest of the world that the United States places nuclear disarmament incredibly high on its list of national security interests. However, this is not the message being conveyed by this treaty. Instead, the parameters of the treaty state that not only does the United States have to limit its number of deployed war heads to 1,550, but it also must only pursue and implement a missile defense system under the scrutiny of the Russians. If the United States violates this clause, then Russia reserves the right to break the 1,550 limit. This treaty is not a sign of moving toward a nuclear-free world, but rather a sign of timidity and weakness on the part of the United States.

Due to the decades-long Cold War between the two states, the U.S.-Russia relationship is a template for all other nuclear states. That is, other nuclear and soon-to-be nuclear states look to the U.S.-Russia nuclear treaties as a form for what to expect from the United States. The United States lost its credibility from this treaty and other nuclear states have seen that. If this treaty is the precedent for U.S. treaties regarding nuclear weapons, then the world will not be moving to nuclear non-proliferation, but rather the United States will continue to decrease in nuclear weapons capabilities while other states take advantage of the naivette of the U.S. and get stronger while the U.S. gets weaker.

It is incomprehensible to think that the United States would sign and ratify a treaty that so clearly benefits Russia when Russia is believed by many to be on the decline. For decades Russia was, and is still believed by many to be, a major competitor to the hegemony of the United States in the global system. Unipolarity is good for the United States and good for the world. Unipolarity provides stability, especially to belligerent regions and allows the United States to set international policy in trade, military use, and particularly nuclear weapons capabilities. Instead of using this time to prolong the polarity of the United States, the U.S. has signed a treaty that essentially gives Russia a place at the head of the table for determining international policy. This treaty allows Russia a sphere of influence that it does not deserve at this time and also that detracts from the United States’ sphere of influence. Despite the fear of many that the United States would face serious backlash from Russia for pulling out of the New START, the United States simply can not afford to stay in this treaty. In addition to the clause allowing the Russians to dictate the United States’ missile defense system, the verification processes for nuclear inspectors in this treaty are entirely insufficient to actually determine whether or not the Russians are holding up their end of the treaty. The Heritage Foundation has published the following regarding the verification processes established by New START:

“The Obama administration is telling skeptical Senators that “rejecting the treaty would leave the two countries dangerously uncertain about each other’s arsenals.”

But New START’s verification terms are so weak that they add little informational value. Paula A. DeSutter, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, noted in a Heritage lecture last month:

“The Russians can do so much under this treaty to advance and expand their strategic forces [yet] our ability to determine whether or not they are doing that and whether it violates the treaty is very, very low. The degree of verifiability is very low.”

Worse, the Obama administration admitted in Congressional testimony last week that they do not even care if the Russians cheat on the treaty.

The United States and the Obama administration in particular needs to seriously consider pulling out of New START as soon as possible. The treaty decreases U.S. nuclear deterrence capabilities, allows undeserved nuclear freedom and flexibility to Russia, sends a message of weakness to other nuclear states, and does not even accomplish the things it is intended to accomplish. Instead of honoring this treaty, the Obama administration should state that, upon further inspection, the treaty does not satisfy U.S. interests and therefore the U.S. will  not honor the treaty. Furthermore, the United States should then immediately work to increase its nuclear weapons stockpiles, strengthen its missile defense system, and work to renegotiate a new nuclear weapons treaty that more strict on Russia and more flexible for the United States.

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