Obama and Medvedev

Treaties are just words. Deeds matter more. We were supposed to have learned that lesson from the fallout after World War I.

That global conflict was billed as “the war to end all wars.” The Versailles Treaty was meant to seal the deal. But its words couldn’t stop the German military.

The treaty aimed to prevent Germany from producing cutting-edge weaponry. The Kaiser’s U-boats, for example, had taken a dreadful toll during the war.

So the treaty forbid all future “construction and purchase of all underwater vessels, even for commercial purposes … in Germany.” The Germans consequently used foreign dummy corporations to build and test their new and improved U-boat designs while Karl Doenitz developed the “wolf pack” tactics that would make Nazi submarines the scourge of the Atlantic during World War II.

The treaty also placed great restrictions on German air forces. It said nothing, however, about rockets or missiles. Wernher Von Braun brought that loophole to the attention of the German high command. In turn, it bankrolled development of the world’s first military missile — the A4. During World War II, 3,000 of them rained down on Britain.

Measuring intentions is an important part of negotiating any treaty. Yet this basic tenet of foreign policy seems to elude our current administration. Case in point: the new arms control treaty the president plans to sign.

President Obama believes that reducing nuclear arms in concert with Moscow is the first step on the “road to zero.” Unfortunately, the Russians don’t.

Moscow sees its nuclear weapons as the cornerstone of its defense. Moreover, its unspoken threat of nuclear attack is central to the success of its foreign policy. Significantly diminishing those resources is the last thing Russia plans on doing.

Moscow does, however, want to see the U.S. nuclear deterrent reduced to an equal footing with its mediocre might. It also wants U.S. conventional strike capabilities and missile defense to be on the table.

As the U.S. deterrent shrinks, others will step up — not down. The president arms control “road” is more likely to lead to a new arms race, rather than to “zero.”

Our Iran policy looks much the same. The White House offered to negotiate with Tehran, believing Iran could be talked out of building nuclear weapons. But the mullahs want nuclear weapons, desperately.

Put aside the fact that their leaders shout for “death to Israel” and speak of a “world without America.” They have other reasons to go “nuclear.”

Tehran wants to be the pre-eminent power in the Middle East. As a nuclear state, it could dictate to its neighbors and Europe as well.

Nuclear weapons would also boost the mullahs’ bent for internal repression. Nuclear powers do not mess in the internal affairs of other nuclear powers. Witness Tiananmen Square. The ayatollahs believe that, when they have the bomb, they can crush the freedom-loving opposition with total impunity. They are counting the days.

The White House seems averse to confronting enemies like Iran or competitors like Russia. (Though it criticizes our friends readily enough.) Instead, it prefers to assume “shared interest” where none exists.

Engagement must be based on reality, not assumptions or simple hope. When it comes to keeping the peace, negotiated words are never enough.