Before Republican senators vote down the strategic arms reduction treaty negotiated by the Obama administration, they should think long and hard about the consequences.
In substance, New START has none of the historic significance of Richard Nixon’s SALT I or ABM treaty, or Jimmy Carter’s SALT II, or Ronald Reagan’s INF treaty removing all intermediate-range missiles from Europe, or the strategic arms reductions treaties negotiated by George Bush I and Bush II.
The latter cut U.S. and Russian arsenals from 10,000-12,000 nuclear warheads targeted on each nation to 2,000 – a huge cut.
If Republicans could back those treaties, what is the case for rejecting New START? Barack Obama’s treaty reduces strategic warheads by 450, leaving each side 1,550.
Is this not enough to deter when we consider what the Chernobyl disaster did to the Soviet Union and what the knockdown of two buildings in New York has done to this country? Ten hydrogen bombs on the United States or Russia could set us back decades, let alone 1,000.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona is holding up the treaty until he gets more assurances that the administration will do the tests and upgrades necessary to maintain the reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons. He should receive those assurances.
Maintaining the credibility of the U.S. deterrent is a vital national interest. But does this justify holding the treaty hostage?
Without a treaty, we lose our right and our ways and means to verify that Russia is carrying out the terms of arms treaties already agreed upon.
How does leaving the United States in the dark about who is doing what with Moscow’s nuclear weapons enhance our security?
Not only are our allies behind this treaty – as are Republican secretaries of state and defense and ex-national security advisers – so, too, is the Pentagon.
If the joint chiefs say this treaty is good for America, what do the reluctant Republican senators believe is wrong with it? Have they considered the impact of the treaty’s defeat on Russia?
In Russia today, there is a widespread belief that when the Soviet Union gave up its global empire, allowed itself to be split apart into 15 nations and brought the Red Army home from Europe, America exploited her weakness by moving NATO onto her front porch.
We brought the Baltic states, all former republics of the USSR, into an alliance aimed against Russia. George W. Bush sought to bring in Ukraine and Georgia, thereby surrounding a Russia that had sought our friendship with U.S. power.
Among Russia’s elite, there is an understandable distrust of the intentions of their old superpower rival. For Republicans in the Senate to kill New START would clinch the case of the anti-Americans in Moscow that we are not interested in nuclear parity but seek strategic superiority.
Killing the treaty would morally disarm those Russians who see their future with the West.
On taking office, Obama put the Ukraine-Georgia accession to NATO on a back burner and canceled the anti-missile missile system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic. His policy has paid dividends.
Half of the U.S. supplies going to the war in Afghanistan go through Russia. Moscow has backed U.N. sanctions on Iran and refused to deliver to Iran the A-300 surface-to-air missile system it had promised. President Dmitri Medvedev is interested in Russia’s participation in a missile defense for all of Europe.
Behind the Obama policy lies this reality. The best way, the only credible way to secure the freedom and independence of former Soviet republics like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine and Georgia is not by threatening Russia with war, but by bringing Russia in from the cold and giving Russia a growing stake in aligning with the West.
No matter the NATO war guarantees we have given to the Baltic republics, we are not going to war with Russia over Estonia. For the first result of such a war would be the annihilation of Estonia.
Moreover, many of Russia’s concerns are our concerns. Moscow does not want to see a Taliban triumph in Afghanistan, as that would embolden Islamic secessionist movements across the North Caucasus that have conducted terror attacks inside Russia itself.
Russia is also deep into a demographic crisis, with more than 500,000 Russians disappearing every year. That this should happen is both a human tragedy and a strategic disaster, for Siberia and the Russian Far East, and all their resources could wind up under the de facto control of 1.4 billion Chinese.
Richard Nixon would have supported this treaty. Ronald Reagan would have supported this treaty, as he loathed nuclear weapons and wished to rid the world of them. And simply because this treaty is “Obama’s treaty” does not mean it is not in America’s interest.
If Republicans should kill New START, and Vladimir Putin responds by using U.S. rejection to rev up Russian nationalism to terminate the “reset” and return to a policy of cooperating with America’s enemies from Pyongyang to Tehran to Caracas, does the Republican Party wish to be held responsible for that?