Obama and Medvedev sign new START

The New START Treaty, which was signed on April 8th, 2010, in Prague, is being heralded by the Obama Administration as a major national security accomplishment. However, it is coming under close scrutiny and criticism by the leading US experts.

This is not surprising as the document raises grave concerns – either directly in the text of the treaty or through implicit linkages and deals that were made during negotiations. Such concerns have prompted some U.S. senators to consider requesting the negotiating record of the treaty and the supporting documents detailing what exactly took place.

Sparking major attention among arms control, defense, and Russia policy wonks, Dimitri Simes, a prominent Russia expert and President of the Nixon Center, published an article saying that high ranking Russians told him that during negotiations the senior American officials conveyed to the Russian side that there was no reason to put more restrictive language on missile defense in the treaty. This is because the Obama Administration has no intention of moving forward with strategic missile defenses in Europe. In addition, Americans told the Russians that specific restraints in the treaty would only cause the Senate to block its ratification. Senior U.S. officials apparently confirmed this to Simes. Moscow reached this understanding with the White House while the Obama Administration continuously assured the public that the treaty would not limit missile defense.

Simes also points out that the new treaty is perceived as a major success inside Russia—so much so that the Kremlin told the media not to praise it in order not to spook the Americans.

Moreover, even if the Obama Administration did not make these assurances, The Heritage Foundation’s veteran strategic weapons analyst Baker Spring has already pointed out that the treaty restricts U.S. missile defense options. The language in the preamble establishes a logic that missile defense capabilities must come down in coordination with reductions in offensive strategic weapons. Otherwise, defenses will call into question the “viability and effectiveness” of strategic offensive weapons. Last December Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared that if the U.S. goes forward with defenses, and America begins to feel “secure”, it will become more “aggressive”, and “do whatever its wants”. That is, Russia does not want U.S. defenses to upset or undermine its strategic balance of terror!

Therefore, Russian interpretation of the treaty as it relates to missile defenses is summarized in the unilateral statement issued at the time of signing in Prague, and threatening to withdrawal from the treaty if the U.S. builds up its defenses. Many observers believe that U.S. plans for missile defense are the casualty of this treaty.

The Heritage Foundation has just released an independent assessment of the new START treaty that explains in detail how this treaty works to limit U.S. missile defenses and details numerous other problems. Just to highlight a few problems detailed in the report, the treaty does not address a pressing issues in European security and of major concern to U.S. allies—Russian tactical nuclear weapons.

Russia may have a 10:1 advantage over the U.S. in its tactical nuclear arsenal. Russian can use these theater nuclear weapons to threaten and intimidate U.S. allies. Not including this class of weapons in the treaty was a major concession.

Another disturbing revelation is that the new START treaty actually facilitates the Russian trend to return to multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle warheads or MIRVed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs). To MIRV a missile is to place several nuclear warheads on a single ICBM.

Open sources indicate that Russia’s highly destabilizing RS-24 mobile, MIRVed missile will be the mainstay of Russian strategic forces by 2016. While the Obama Administration is moving the U.S. aggressively toward single warhead missiles as indicated in the Nuclear Posture Review, the new treaty has no limitations on the number of warheads that can be deployed on Russian missiles. As Russia develops a multi-warhead strategic missile arsenal, while the U.S. goes in the opposite direction, an unstable nuclear posture emerges.

Finally, the Obama Administration has made repeated claims that new START will reduce by 30 percent the number of deployed warheads now permitted under the Moscow Treaty (1,700-2,200). In fact, new START’s counting rules and apparent lapses will permit increases in Russian strategic force levels above those of the Moscow Treaty. RIA Novosti, Russia’s official news agency, has already pointed out that Russia will be able to retain 2,100 strategic nuclear warheads under the New START if it follows through with nuclear modernization. One of the biggest lapses is the bomber counting rule, which equates each bomber with one warhead. It is far more permissive than the Moscow Treaty.

The Obama Administration presents the Treaty as a major arms control achievement, yet it limits the range of defensive options available for the United States — not for Russia. .The ratification of this treaty will have profound implications for the security of the United States. Let us also hope that the U.S. Senate does its quality control job well when deciding whether to ratify this treaty.

Co-authored by Ariel Cohen, Owen Graham and Michaela Bendikova

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy at the Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Policy at The Heritage Foundation. Owen Graham is a Research Assistant in the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Michaela Bendikova is Graduate Assistant at Missouri State University.