START or Stop?

By John Liang / July 15, 2010 at 3:35 PM

With Congress back in session after the July 4th break and with only a few weeks left before the longer August recess, supporters and detractors of ratifying the follow-on Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty are ratcheting up the debate.

In a letter sent yesterday to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN), former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) are calling for New START's ratification:

The two of us also want to make clear our support for New START and express our hope that the committee can now move expeditiously with their report and a vote recommending New START for consideration by the full Senate. We recognize the importance of the Senate giving full consideration to the related hearings held by the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

We strongly endorse the goals of this Treaty -- to achieve a near-term reduction of nuclear weapons with mutually agreed verification procedures. We believe the threat of nuclear terrorism remains urgent, fueled by the spread of nuclear weapons, materials and technology around the world. While this is a global issue, there are two countries -- the United States and Russia -- whose cooperation is absolutely essential in order to successfully deal with current nuclear threats. With New START, our odds of establishing a more cooperative relationship with Russia improve -- recognizing this will be a process of engagement broader than any one treaty.

Not everyone is so supportive, however. Retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Monroe, a former director of the Defense Nuclear Agency, wrote an op-ed in today's Washington Times seeking to rein in such irrational exuberance:

To date, Senate ratification hearings on the New START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia have been "love-ins." A parade of witnesses - mostly Obama administration members, elder statesmen committed to "a world without nuclear weapons," and veteran arms controllers - have painted the treaty as another modest, responsible reduction in numbers of weapons, a new nonproliferation initiative and an important element for "resetting" our relations with Russia.

This one-sided approach to a key national decision is not serving the country well. Ratification of New START would be a major mistake, immensely damaging to national security. Some of the reasons have been touched upon in testimony but not emphasized or seriously discussed. For example:

The treaty is unbalanced. It reduces U.S. nuclear weapons while allowing Russia unlimited increases in new tactical nuclear weapons, multiple independent re-entry vehicles, nuclear cruise missiles and nuclear bombs.

The treaty reduces U.S. strategic delivery vehicles (SDVs) below the minimum recommended by the Defense Department last year while allowing Russia to increase its SDVs.

The treaty is unverifiable. It does not even include the on-site inspections, telemetry access and missile-production monitoring of START-I, which it replaces.

The treaty gives Russia virtual veto power over future improvements in U.S. missile defense - America's vital first line of defense in tomorrow's world.

The treaty seriously undermines our promising Prompt Global Strike program (with conventional warheads) by requiring that each missile be counted as a nuclear SDV.

Our nuclear weapons modernization program - which is required by law to be considered with treaty ratification - is totally inadequate. It omits modernization of the nuclear weapons themselves; it omits testing of nuclear weapons to prove their viability; it omits construction of a pit (trigger) production facility of adequate capacity to rapidly replace our overaged stockpile; and it omits replacement of SDVs for two legs of our strategic triad. . . .

In sum, the Senate owes it to America to expand the New START ratification debate so that it fully addresses the true issue at stake - should America rely on strength or weakness as it faces the dangerous and unknown future? Hopefully, these hearings will stimulate the national debate the issue deserves.

And Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) isn't a fan of the treaty either, saying at a National Defense University Foundation breakfast this morning that "the great concern here that I have is the administration's arrogance to competency ratio is catastrophically out of balance."