Obama and Medvedev sign new START

New START, a strategic offensive arms reductions treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation, would limit the U.S. ability to defend against an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. According to experts James Carafano and Richard Weitz, “A nuclear device detonated high in the atmosphere above the American mainland can easily disable the country’s electrical grid.” Currently, the United States does not have missile defenses that would protect it against this “Scud in a bucket” scenario. By limiting U.S. ballistic missile defense options, New START would contribute to leaving the United States vulnerable to an EMP attack.

Moreover, New START might easily become a tool of proliferation. Not only does the treaty ignore the nuclear program of North Korea and other nuclear weapon states (e.g., Pakistan and India), but it does not address Russia’s manifold advantage over the United States in tactical nuclear weapons. Tactical nuclear weapons are easily concealable and transportable and are a more serious concern for proliferation because of their quantities. Most importantly, by focusing on Cold War–style arms control, the treaty distracts from a real threat—the Iranian, North Korean, and newly discovered Syrian nuclear weapons programs.

Nuclear-armed Iran would be a game-changer in the Middle East and would threaten the stability of the entire region. Other states are likely to be quick to follow. In the past, Saudi officials met with representatives of Pakistani A. Q. Khan network, the major seller of dual-use uranium enrichment technology and nuclear weapons technology. This network is responsible for building up Libya’s nuclear weapons program before Libya renounced the program following Saddam Hussein’s capture in 2003.

North Korea is becoming more and more aggressive toward the South, an important U.S. ally. In addition, Pyongyang has ballistic missiles that can reach U.S. territory. Other countries are not timid, as well. Iran and Syria repeatedly denied the International Atomic Energy Agency access to facilities suspected of working on the nuclear weapons program, and according to the Air Force’s estimate, Iran will have a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching U.S. territory by 2015.

Clearly, this is not the time to focus on Cold War-style arms control, much less to limit U.S. ballistic missile defense options.