The goal of the Obama administration, made clear from almost day one, was to hit a “reset” button on US-Russian relations. The question of what we are re-setting, however, is something that has been all but ignored.
In the mindset of the Russians, they have to change nothing. Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak stated in an interview to The Rossiyskaya Gazeta, “I do not think that our [Russia’s] attitude toward America changed greatly. I’d say that the Americans finally saw the error of their ways and began working on amelioration of our relations.”
This was a dead giveaway. During the START negotiations the Russians pushed for concession and after concession from the U.S. while giving nothing in return. As described by Stephen Rademaker, Senior Counsel, BGR Government Affairs, “This negotiation was essentially Christmas Day over and over again [for the Russians].”
In a vital argument regarding U.S. national security policy this past Wednesday at a Foreign Policy Initiative event, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) stated that Russia “is a country that is a threat to many but a protector of none.”
In contrast, the United States today provides security guarantees for more than 30 countries all over the world. As a result of this commitment, the United States must have a credible and reliable nuclear deterrent. This ensures that our allies do not have to develop their own nuclear capabilities, thus preventing nuclear proliferation. In this sense, the strategic commitment is clearly different than that of the Russian Federation. Nevertheless, the new START treaty codifies strategic parity and practically limits U.S. ballistic missile defenses.
Senator DeMint’s remarks were misunderstood by some of the participants. Given the history of decades of dealing with Russia, it becomes clear that Senator DeMint is right in pointing out that this treaty does nothing more than re-create the Cold War mentality of the doctrine previously known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). In this doctrine, one side launches a nuclear attack leading the other nation to respond in-kind leaving both countries utterly devastated.
Instead of focusing on what else we can give to the Russians to placate them, the Obama administration needs to focus more on how an unfettered strategic missile defense program will further the cause of re-setting US-Russian relations. What is likely to happen if we decide to lower numbers of nuclear weapons, commit to de-alerting them, commit to develop no new weapon designs unless absolutely necessary, and undermine the policy of constructive ambiguity? Allies will question our commitment to their security. They are more likely to develop their own nuclear capabilities. Ironically, Obama’s naïve goal of a nuclear-free world will be turned upside down.
Overall, missile defense is about much more than defending against a missile attack. In conjunction with our nuclear umbrella, both systems will be vital in preventing global weapons proliferation.
Missile defense plays a central role, therefore, in decreasing the role of nuclear weapons in overall strategic thinking. While Obama’s “road to zero” is a road to nowhere, a comprehensive missile defense system will render the logic of a nuclear attack with ballistic weapons obsolete and ultimately may make the acquisition of such weapons irrelevant.
President’s Obama lack of leadership on vital issues of national security is incomprehensible. The only hope we have of resetting the relations with Russia at this point is if the Senate rejects the New START Treaty and start from the scratch.
Co-authored by Michaela Bendikova and Ricky Trotman, who are members of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm
Owen Graham is a research assistant at the Katherine and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Policy at the Heritage Foundation