The Heritage Foundation
Protecting America in the New Missile Age


Stopping START

December 7th, 2010

By Owen Graham and Matthew Foulger

The bilateral arms control treaty between the United States and Russia, known as New START has critical implications for the security of the U.S. and its allies. In a recent article, Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) addresses concerns regarding the treaty. These include: limits on U.S. missile defense capabilities, a weak verification regime, and an outdated view of the world that embraces the paradigm of the Cold War by focusing only on Russia with its porous limits on nuclear warheads, delivery vehicles, and inspection regimes instead of looking at the new and shifting 21st Century challenges.

For Sen. Barrasso, this nuclear arms treaty hits close to home. On Oct. 26, 2010, one-ninth of the United State’s land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) went offline at F. E. Warren Air Force. The senator asserts that by ratifying New START, the Senate risks taking America’s nuclear deterrent offline. He is absolutely correct. This incident certainly reveals the need for the U.S. to modernize its nuclear weapons arsenal as soon as possible in order to maintain its nuclear deterrent. Yet the Administration’s plan is overwhelmingly weighted in favor of sustainment over modernization. Current White House policies bar steps that would lead to the development and procurement of “new nuclear warheads” or “capabilities” to meet new missions in the 21st Century. Furthermore the president’s threat to withhold money on nuclear program unless Senators vote to ratify New START rings hollow and is reprehensible. The President has no way of guaranteeing the money because the Congress passes the budget. Conditioning funding for nuclear program on New START is playing politics with our national security.

The senator’s reasoning for opposing New START is logically sound. The treaty imposes significant restrictions on U.S. missile defense. These are found in the treaty, its protocols, and annexes. Paragraph 9 of the Preamble also establishes a bias against missile defense and codifies the old “balance of terror.” Building a comprehensive and layered missile defense will be much more difficult under the treaty. Indeed, these restrictions will leave the United States and our allies increasingly vulnerable to growing ballistic missile threats from Iran and North Korea or coalitions of hostile parties. In pursuit of New START, the Administration is holding to a cold-war view of the global environment where the U.S. falsely perceived Russia as its only nuclear rival.

With respect to the verification regime, New START is far less verifiable than the original treaty. The U.S. will know significantly less about current and future Russian missiles under New START, and the Russians will be able to do much to advance and expand their strategic forces. The consequences of circumvention or cheating are more dangerous when nuclear forces come down and in the absence of robust U.S. missile defenses.

The Administration is currently rushing to ram New START through the brief “lame duck” session of Congress. Treaties requiring cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal require more scrutiny than others. Moreover, Senate consideration of New START during lame duck is also inappropriate for procedural reasons. This is why the Republican Senators-elect have written a letter to Senator Reid (D-NV), the Majority Leader, which states that it should be their responsibility to consider and vote on this treaty in the “lame duck.” They will be seated next month and need time to become educated on the content of the treaty.

Senator Barrasso has pointed out major flaws regarding New START. The treaty, if ratified as it currently stands, would undermine the security of the U.S. and its allies. Instead of hastily forcing the Senate vote during the “lame duck” session, the new Senate should be given enough time to become educated on the treaty and address its numerous flaws.