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Stopping START. Part II

MR. CHEREMUSHKIN (Interfax News Agency):  For a long time, U.S. and Russia were rivals.  Does United States view Russia as a continuing threat to its national security?  And are you concerned about Russian new build up of more powerful ICBMs?

SEC. GATES:  No.  I think that we are — we have — I don’t see Russia as a threat.  I see Russia — Russian-U.S. relations being those of normal states now.  We’re partners in some areas and competitors in others.  But on important things, we are cooperating. full transcript

I few days ago I wrote on the importance of stopping the START II treaty from proceeding to ratification. Since that time Erick and Russ Vought have posted on what appears to be an inclination on the part of the GOP caucus to let Obama have his treaty, essentially trading our national security for tax cuts and sacrificing our nation’s defense policy on the altar of bipartisanship.

There are two articles in the Washington Post which should be read by anyone with an interest in this subject. The first is by Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, Lawrence S. Eagleburger and Colin L. Powell in defense of the treaty. The second is a deconstruction of their arguments by George Will.

In my view it is Will who carries the day. Will points out that as did I that the enthusiasm for this treaty is driven by two closely related factors. Obama needs a success in order to remain relevant and Russian needs to feel important. START II arrives at this unique nexus of neediness tailor made to suit both parties. In counterpoint to the treaty defenders, this treaty is not necessary in order to reduce nuclear weapons.

It is more reasonable to worry about the security of Russia’s weapons than about their numbers. New START, however, pertains primarily to the numbers. It requires the reduction of strategic weapons and launchers. Concerning the former, Russia’s economic anemia is already forcing it into arms reductions. Concerning the latter, Russia already is below the levels the treaty would impose on America.

As Senator Kyl has pointed out the real nuclear issue is not numbers but modernization and testing. We haven’t tested a nuke since 1992 even though we know periodic testing is necessary to validate the serviceability of our arsenal and to develop newer weapons. While we haven’t ratified the  Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, in fact it was rejected by the Senate in 1999 when another wounded president was struggling for legitimacy, we have complied with it.

When one examines the fluff trotted out in support of this treaty one is struck by the lighter than air quality of their arguments.

If Russia is not a threat why are we entering into an arms control treaty with them and not also with Britain, France, and Communist China? All of those countries have nukes, none of them are supposed to be threats either.

How can anyone look at Russia’s behavior on Iran and other trouble spots in the world under START I and, without losing bladder control laughing, claim that START II will make Russia a good international citizen?

The treaty does not address the security of Russian nukes, therefore it is difficult to understand how this treaty will reduce the chances of stray Russian nukes ending up in the wrong hands or why if the Russians are so laissez faire about the ownership of their nukes this treaty would convince them to change.

Verification is brought out as an issue but at best it is vapor. If the Russians have an interest in verification that can be accomplished via military cooperation agreements. If they don’t have an interest they will cheat the inspectors at least as brazenly as the Iraqis did. Besides there was no verification procedure in place for most of the Cold War so it is hard to see why verifying the stockpile of an ostensibly friendly country is vital to our interests.

If one wishes to set a good example for those dictators in various Third World pest holes who are now scrabbling about trying to obtain a nuke, then it would seem to me the best course of action would be for the United States to unilaterally reduce its stockpile to START II levels and let the Russians do what they wish.

While the administration claims that the reference to missile defense in the preamble is not enforceable it is clear from the Wikileaks documents that the Russians consider missile defense very much a part of the treaty. The huge concession made by the Obama administration to Russia in the form of scrapping missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic was directly tied to Russia’s insistence that the use of tracking radar at those sites would result in them positioning nukes on the Polish border at Kaliningrad.

(C) In response to Senator’s Levin question why Russia was not more concerned about Iran’s missile capabilities, since Russia was closer to Iran, Lavrov said Moscow was “not complacent; we are closer.” But whenever Russian negotiators had protested to the U.S. side that the proposed radar could cover Russia up to the Urals and the interceptors could reach Russian territory, the U.S. response had simply been that the system “was not aimed at Russia.” As Medvedev and Putin had said, “when there is something risky on the ground, you need to take it into account.” Russia had warned it would need to take countermeasures if the 3rd site was deployed, and that it would put missiles in Kaliningrad. Noting that Moscow would announce soon just how much it had withdrawn from Kaliningrad, Lavrov said he hoped the U.S. and Russia could find common ground on MD.

Beyond this hardly being the act of a “friendly” power, this linkage of the positioning of nuclear weapons and our missile defense systems will only become more acute in the presence of a treaty containing disputed provisions.

When nations are enemies, they use arms negotiations less to mutually limit arms than to channel arms competition in strategically advantageous directions. So real arms control is impossible until it is unimportant. Until, that is, dangers disappear. So, ratification of New START is possible. But to call it urgent is silly; to call it advisable would be premature, pending completion of the Senate’s advise-and-consent role, which should include clarifying stipulations in any ratifying resolution.

The impertinence of mere senators modifying their handiwork will scandalize the Cold War arms control clerisy, who are still with us. These custodians of humanity’s salvation, these speakers of an argot (SLBMs, ICBMs, MIRVs, etc.) more arcane to the laity than Latin was to 14th-century peasants, are marvelously unimpressed by the events of 1991. If, when the Soviet Union disappeared, Russia had disintegrated until only the Moscow metropolitan area remained, the clerisy would be earnestly negotiating arms agreements with that city’s police force.

In this era of astonishing emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil, Russia is a perverse miracle of arrested development. It is receding because it still has an essentially hunter-gatherer economy, based on extraction industries (oil, gas, minerals). Aside from vodka, what Russian-manufactured export matters? Don’t say caviar; it is extracted from sturgeon. America’s domestic policy is bedeviled by reactionary liberalism, whose adherents resist any diminution of any entitlement. Barack Obama’s tumble into a time warp – his overinvestment in an arms agreement with the emaciated Russian bear – proves that reactionary liberalism does not end at the water’s edge.

If the GOP accedes to the Obama administration on this issue it will have proven itself to not be a serious player in foreign policy. By any standard this treaty serves the purposes of the president, not the nation. We haven’t made a history of bribing nations into compliance since the XYZ Affair and “millions for defense but not one cent for tribute.” We certainly should not attempt to bribe a prickly second tier power, a power in a steep decline, into good behavior.

If the treaty isn’t scrapped outright it should be accompanied by two things. First, the linkage between START II and BMD should be excised. Second, the president must commit to an ironclad time table of nuclear tests. This would convince a lot of us that he is serious about something other than his political future.

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