Obama and Medvedev

In her recent op-ed, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D–NH) expresses her favorable opinion about the New START Treaty that was voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. However, the op-ed, as well as the committee vote, raises more questions than answers.

First, there were only 12 open and classified hearings examining the implications of New START for the national security of the United States. And as usual, the devil is in the details—with more than 20 witnesses, the minority was only allowed to hear testimony from three of its choices. It is very difficult to argue, therefore, that the committee had enough information to give the treaty its fiduciary due diligence, and even more difficult to argue that the treaty is ready for the Senate floor.

Second, the New START Treaty is flawed because its limits are based on maintaining a balance of strategic nuclear forces between the U.S. and Russia. This is the wrong way to view the balance of forces in a proliferating world, particularly one with growing nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea. The treaty’s bilateral approach leaves important questions unanswered, such as: What will the U.S. do if it faces a combination of strategic threats from several nations, including Russia?

Moreover, the arms control policy of this Administration—which is based on the mirror image assumption that if the United States lowers numbers of nuclear weapons, other nations will follow—is fundamentally misguided. Indeed, such an arms policy runs contrary to historical evidence. Russia and United States, for example, eliminated more than 80 percent of their nuclear weapons arsenals since the end of the Cold War; yet, Iran, China, or North Korea have not been persuaded, continuing apace by developing and upgrading their ballistic and nuclear weapons programs. This trend will continue regardless of whether the United States—or Russia—eliminates its nuclear weapons.

The Constitution mandates that the U.S. Government “provide for the common defence.” In this new security environment, the U.S Senate should therefore support and commit to the development of a robust ballistic missile defense system that would give the President another option besides nuclear retaliation in the horrific case that the U.S. is attacked with a weapon of mass destruction. In other words, the United States needs to move away from a policy based on retaliation-based deterrence and vulnerability and toward one that protects and defends its people, territory, infrastructure and institutions, and, to the best extent possible, its allies.

Because the Administration has conceded to a number of Russian demands in New START negotiations and given away future U.S. bargaining leverage, it will be very difficult to get Moscow to negotiate in good faith over its tactical nuclear weapons, where the U.S. disadvantage is likely 10:1. For the Russian Federation, the negotiations were like Christmas Day, with the Obama Administration leaving generous gifts—regardless of whether the Russians had been naughty or nice. As a result of this giveaway, there is not much that the United States can use as leverage during negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons.

The issue of verification is one of the most problematic. The New START verification regime is not even a pale reflection of the one in the original START Treaty. Not only is the number of inspections lower, but New START is increasingly reliant on U.S. national technical means (NTM). But according to former assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation Paula DeSutter, the U.S. NTM infrastructure is “broken.” Also troubling, all experts and members of the arms control community agree that as the number of nuclear weapons go down, verification becomes more, not less, important.

The Senate must ensure that it has access to the full negotiating record and has time to review it in detail. This is especially important to learn what kinds of deals were cut over missile defense in order to garner Russian agreement to New START. Senators must also be given sufficient time to draft amendments to remedy at least some of the many flaws that are found in or associated with the treaty.

Lastly, there are serious concerns regarding the latest intelligence on the scale of Russian cheating. This new intelligence, in particular, could be a very serious matter. Before the Senate moves any further to consider the treaty, it should meet as a body in closed session for a briefing on this intelligence. Because of these unresolved issues—and there are many more—the Senate should not rush to bring New START to the Senate floor for debate.

Owen Graham and Michaela Bendikova from the Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation contributed to this post.