Defense & National Security

New START Treaty Not a Big Deal

The United States and Russia will soon sign a nuclear weapons reductions treaty in Prague in the Czech Republic, according to both Washington and Moscow. The treaty, knows as the New START Treaty or NST, will reduce our deployed nuclear warheads some 650 down to 1,550, carried on no more than 700-800 missiles and bombers.

Richard Burt, the head of Global Zero, an organization pushing for disarmament said it represented a major step toward achieving the elimination of nuclear weapons. Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association said the agreement represented the first post-Cold War arms control agreement.

Advocates of a “reset” relationship with Russia claim the treaty is proof of a new beginning in U.S. and Russia cooperation, especially with respect to ending the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Pyongyang and Tehran. But that reset relation has only resulted in watered-down additional sanctions against Iran which do nothing but call for the enforcement of existing sanctions which (1) are not now being enforced and (2) would not make any difference. For Americans worried about a nuclear-armed Iran or North Korea, or a bullying Russia and a rising China, this agreement is at best a distraction.

The treaty is simply no big deal. In 2002, former Presidents Bush and Putin signed what is known as the “Moscow Treaty.” Ratified by the U.S. Senate and Russian Duma, the treaty reduced U.S. deployed weapons from 6,000 allowed under the 1991 START treaty to 2,200, a significant 63% reduction—more the twice the percentage reduction achieved in the new treaty and nearly six times the reduction in absolute numbers of warheads. If a 650 reduction in warheads is a significant accomplishment toward zero nuclear weapons worldwide, (which of course it is not), then what would a reduction of 3,800 warheads qualify for? Perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize?

In fact, one could argue that the difference between the low end of the warhead level permitted by the Moscow Treaty—1,700—and the new level allowed by the new start treaty—1,550—is so small, (150 warheads) as to qualify for the most inconsequential arms-control agreement in American history! One possible serious flaw in the treaty may be that the allowable numbers of U.S. missiles and bombers may be too small to allow for the continued deployment of an effective and fully survivable Triad of missiles, submarines and bombers. The good news is that the treaty apparently does not call for the U.S. to take its missiles off alert—a process that is unverifiable, dangerous and could lead to the very use of nuclear weapons in a crisis we all want to avoid.

As for the claim that we now will achieve warhead levels not achieved for the past 50 years, some folks apparently have been sound asleep for the past few years. When the U.S. brought our deployed warhead levels down to 2,200 under the Moscow Treaty agreed to under George W. Bush’s leadership, which we reached in 2008, the U.S. achieved lower warhead levels than at anytime since, (you guessed correctly!) the Eisenhower Administration.

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