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Keith Payne on START Mischaracterization and Misdirection

Keith B. Payne, a former deputy assistant secretary for defense, suggests that Republican opposition to new START may have as much to do with how the Obama administration is trying to sell the treaty as the treaty’s many problems, including limits on our missile defense strategy. An excerpt of his article at National Review Online:

“Senior members of the administration have contributed to the skepticism by engaging in a pattern of mischaracterization and misdirection while simultaneously being disdainful and dismissive of reasonable treaty concerns identified by knowledgeable commentators.

“For example, even before Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed the treaty in April 2010, some U.S. commentators expressed concern that the administration would agree in New START to limits on U.S. missile defense. Russian commentators fanned this flame by claiming frequently that the treaty would indeed limit U.S. defenses. In response, the administration reassured all that there would be no such limits whatsoever; New START was to be a treaty on strategic offensive forces, not on defensive forces. During an April 29 press conference to explain New START, Ellen Tauscher, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, stated that ‘the treaty does nothing to constrain missile defenses . . . this treaty is about offensive strategic weapons.’ And: ‘There is no limit or constraint on what the United States can do with its missile defense system.’ Further: ‘There are no constraints to missile defense.’

“Yet the actual text of the treaty shows Russian commentators and U.S. skeptics to be correct: New START’s Article V, paragraph 3, explicitly limits some U.S. missile-defense options, and the treaty establishes a Bilateral Consultative Commission wherein missile defense can be the subject of further ongoing discussions and possible limitation. The administration, however, has repeated the false claim of no limits on missile defense so often and so definitively that it continues to be presented as fact by some journalists and commentators sympathetic to New START.”

Although START limits missile defense and non-nuclear strategic forces, it doesn’t specifically mention limiting rail-mobile ICBMs, “an old Russian favorite.” When concerned senators sought clarification, Russia’s Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the parliament committee responsible for treaties, seemed to be offended, issuing a veiled threat to “stop action” on START.

“The pattern of mischaracterization and misdirection also extends to the repeated administration claims that New START will reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads by ‘about 30 percent below the 2200 maximum that was in the 2002 Moscow treaty.’ However, the specific terms of the treaty actually permit the number of nuclear weapons to move higher than the 2,200 maximum under the previous Moscow Treaty because under New START all of the weapons on a bomber would count as only one warhead, even though some bombers are capable of carrying many more. A Russian strategic expert, Mikhail Barabanov, described this sleight of hand regarding New START’s supposed reductions as ‘nothing short of fraudulent, and clearly designed to mislead the public.’”

Payne noted, as we did during START negotiations, that Russia had less to lose than the U.S. Russia was already below START’s launcher limits, for example. The U.S. felt the greater impact of the treaty’s imposed limits. Payne also points out the Obama administration’s new selling point: the Senate must ratify START during the lame-duck session, or our national security will be weakened.

“Yet Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has stated repeatedly that Russia poses no military threat to us or our allies. This bit of illogic remains unexplained, and even the Washington Post labels such administration claims of urgency as ‘more than a little overstated’ and ‘hyperbole.’”

It’s time for the Obama administration to stop obfuscating and begin addressing critics’ concerns about START.

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