Obama and Medvedev

Give the proponents of New START credit for “staying on message” regarding the reasons why they think the Senate should consent to the ratification of this strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia. These are the same tired arguments the Obama Administration has been making for months, and are now made again in The Washington Times op-ed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and former Senator Jake Garn. So let’s revisit the arguments.

First, they argue that the strategic nuclear verification regime incorporated into the predecessor treaty, called START, expired with START last December and, as a result of this expiration, there is now the need for the Senate to rush to approve New START in order to replace the expired regime. This might be a compelling argument except for the fact the Obama Administration did not believe it when it drew up its plans for strategic nuclear arms control with Russia.

It could and should have focused on this issue single-mindedly and proposed adopting a verification and transparency protocol to the existing Moscow Treaty. Instead, the Administration chose to negotiate New START under the deadline of START expiration and failed to meet that deadline. When it failed to meet the deadline, the White House justified its position on the basis that it was more important to get New START right than to meet its own deadline. Scowcroft and Garn are effectively saying that the Senate cannot afford to take its time and must rush to approve a treaty even as the Obama Administration is asserting that is counterproductive to rush.

Second, they argue that New START imposes no substantive restrictions on U.S. missile defense options. The fact is that the Russians assert that qualitative and quantitative improvements in U.S. missile defense capabilities are incompatible with the treaty. The Russian position has caused even treaty proponents on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to accept an understanding in its resolution of ratification to counter the Russian position. While this understanding is only a partial and unreliable solution, at least the Members of the Committee recognize the problem—unlike Scowcroft and Garn,

Third, Scowcroft and Garn tout the verification provisions within New START. Former Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation, Paula DeSutter, spoke on this matter at The Heritage Foundation on June 30, 2010 and expressed profound doubts about this verification regime. Secretary DeSutter is a recognized expert in this area.

Fourth, the two former statesmen assert that the Russian advantage in non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons, which is not addressed in New START, should await negotiations in a separate agreement. Perhaps, but they make no substantive recommendations about how to convince Russia to accept an agreement that will require it to forgo its advantage in this area, when all previous attempts have failed.

Finally, Scowcroft and Garn assert that New START will generate a deal between the Obama Administration and those in the Senate concerned about the atrophying U.S. nuclear arsenal and weapons infrastructure. This deal, they argue, will establish a sustained program for nuclear modernization in exchange for treaty ratification. Apparently, they fail to recognize the flawed logic behind this supposed deal. The need for such a deal is based on the well-grounded assumption that the Obama Administration does not favor steps to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and infrastructure on its merits. Rather, it supports such steps only in the context of its desire to ratify New START. What will prevent the Obama Administration and New START proponents in Congress from walking away from an effective modernization plan following the ratification of New START is a question they leave unanswered.

Recycling old arguments on the merits of New START fails to make a convincing case regarding ratification. The Senate will best serve the national interest by ignoring the manufactured arguments that it cannot afford to take the time necessary to understand the flaws with the treaty and must rush to approve it. Such a rush to approval is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they forged the treaty-making process established by the Constitution.