Paul Marin, Columnist
Ideology: Liberal Republican | Writing from: George Washington University
Last week, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the GOP’s point man on New START, announced his opposition to a quick ratification of the New START treaty with Russia. The Senate Republicans’ stated opposition to the New START treaty is that it negatively impacts America’s Eastern European allies, its U.S. missile defense capabilities and strategic security. But in fact, it enhances them. The Republican attempt to defeat President Obama by stalling the treaty was a misguided, purely partisan tactic which only weakens America.
The Republican claim that New START somehow endangers Eastern European nations was recently shot down by European foreign ministers at NATO’s summit in Lisbon. A decrease in U.S. and Russian arsenals would endanger Europe to a hypothetical Russian aggression in only two scenarios: if Russia had overwhelming nuclear supremacy that would deny the U.S. a nuclear second strike capability, or if the U.S. could not make a credible offer of militarily defending its allies. New START does not lead to any of these scenarios as the United States as well as Russia are decreasing their nuclear arsenals and it does not stipulate any other constraints for U.S. military capabilities.
Additionally, the treaty does not limit U.S. missile defense capabilities. Its preamble only admits a factual correlation between offensive strategic arms and defensive ones. In any case, Republicans who consider that missile defense holds the key to American security are wrong on three counts. First, developing missile defenses capable of withstanding a synchronized volley of hundreds of Russian missiles is incredibly expensive and utterly unaffordable. Plus, there are certain nuclear missiles such as submarine launched ballistic missiles that are nearly impossible to shoot down. And second, even if the U.S. developed such capabilities, it would not make it more secure. The shift in the balance of power triggered by such capabilities would prove destabilizing in the international system in an era in which stability is becoming increasingly scarce and valuable.
A new benefit of the New START treaty is that it provides the U.S. with means to verify Russian arsenals and to incentivize the Russians to shield them away from the black market. Currently, as a result of the expiration of the previous START treaty, there are no U.S. inspectors in Russia. While the U.S. can use its spy satellites to learn about basic Russian nuclear capabilities, it cannot use them to find out game changing details such as the precise number of nuclear devices or the number of warheads per missile. Furthermore, the presence of U.S. inspectors in Russian facilities is the best guarantee the U.S. can obtain that loose Russian nukes do not end up on a market remotely close to Al Qaeda.
Most importantly, the timely ratification of the New START treaty is an easy way to further trust between Russia and the U.S. Such trust is necessary for the U.S. to gain and maintain Russian cooperation in dealing with Iran, logistics in Afghanistan and opening of the Russian market for U.S. trade and investment. Failure of the New START treaty only will validate the claims of anti-American Russian hawks regarding U.S. intentions and will strain relations between the two countries at an inopportune time.
Enacting the New START treaty amounts not only to good foreign policy but also to good domestic politics for the GOP. Americans support the treaty by at 74 percent margin. The military brass as well as the Republican Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, find the treaty imperative to U.S. national security. Would the GOP gain anything politically by saying no to respected military leaders?