The Obama Administration has stated on numerous occasions that there is “no way, no how” the New START treaty, a nuclear arms control agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States, will limit U.S. ballistic missile defense options. However, ongoing exchanges of opinions on this question show that the issue is far from clear.

Reporter Josh Rogin, in his recent critique of an amendment that Senator Jim DeMint (R–SC) offered to the resolution of ratification for New START in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) disparages the Senator’s effort. DeMint also offered a similar amendment to the defense authorization bill for the FY2011. Rogin’s criticism is, at its core, based on a single, fallacious argument: If you can’t defend against every possible missile that could target America, why even bother? Rogin’s critique also implies that some proponents of New START want to limit missile defense. 

Even if Rogin doesn’t understand why we should make sure we are able, under New START, to deploy the best missile defenses possible, the SFRC obviously does. That’s why it included a modified version of the amendment in its resolution of ratification by voice vote backed by Senator Jim Webb (D–VA), Senator Bob Corker (R–TN) and others.

As it stands, New START does little to ensure that the United States and Russia are able to protect and defend the people, territory, infrastructure, and institutions of both countries, and of their respective allies. Both amendments attempted to fix this flaw. The version of the amendment adopted by the committee states that a paramount obligation of the U.S. government is to provide for the defense of the American people, its forward-deployed troops, and U.S. allies. Moreover, it states that arms control policies based on the theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD) can be contrary to the safety and security of both the U.S. and Russia.

The adopted amendment also identifies missile defenses as a critical means to reducing U.S. vulnerability to current and future ballistic missile threats, and it commits the United States to improving its strategic defensive capabilities both qualitatively and quantitatively. Furthermore, it welcomes steps by the Russian Federation to move away from a Cold War-style adversarial relationship and to adopt fundamentally defensive postures. Finally, the SFRC amendment invites cooperation on missile defenses as long as such cooperation is aimed at fostering America’s defensive capabilities.

The United States needs the ability to protect itself from ballistic missile attacks from any source, including Russia. None of the amendments focus on Russia alone as a possible threat; rather, each recognizes the current strategic landscape, with independent and emerging nuclear threats to the U.S. homeland and U.S. allies, as demanding of a new concept of strategic deterrence. Any missile defense system deployed in the U.S. to shoot down an Iranian or North Korean long-range ballistic missile would also have some capability to shoot down a Russian ballistic missile. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t deploy those defenses. The government’s primary constitutional obligation is to “provide for the common defence.” Senator DeMint’s amendments, including the one adopted by the SFRC, serve to bolster the national security of the United States.

Co-authored by Owen Graham and Michaela Bendikova