All signs point to an effort by the Obama administration to ram their New Start agreement with Russia through the Senate in a lame duck session after the November elections. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has placed a floor vote on the treaty atop his list of lame duck priorities, and the continuing resolution passed in September included $624 million in funding for the National Nuclear Security Administrations. Analysts believe that money could secure the support of some previously skeptical Republicans. But nuclear modernization is just one of many problems with New START. The limits that New START place on missile defense, for example, are also completely unresolved.
Just this week six conservative senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking to review documents relating to secret talks between U.S. and Russian officials on missile defense revealed earlier this month. According to The Washington Times, Sens. Jeff Sessions (R–AL), James Inhofe (R–OK), David Vitter (R–LA), John Cornyn (R–TX), Roger Wicker (R–MS), and John Thune (R–SD) asked Secretary Clinton: “We are writing to request information pertaining to press reports suggesting the imminent conclusion of a missile defense agreement between Russia and the United States.” Heritage Foundation analyst Baker Spring explains the significance of these newly revealed negotiations:
That the Obama Administration would be engaged in negotiations with Russia on genuine cooperation in the area missile defense should be expected and encouraged.
It is objectionable, however, to use these negotiations as a cover for doing the opposite of what the Administration advertised—i.e., curtailing missile defenses. As such, there is clear justification for the Senators’ demand that they and their colleagues receive the record of these negotiations.
From the beginning, the Obama administration has sworn up and down that New START does not “contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs.” But this is just plain false, as subsequent White House backtracking has established. The fact is that both the treaty’s preamble and Russia’s unilateral statement at the signing of the treaty explicitly link missile defense and offensive nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Article V specifically limits our ability to convert ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers into defensive interceptors.
Given the trends in the proliferation of nuclear weapons and rapid improvements in the means to deliver them (think Iran and North Korea), the U.S. government must maintain its right to defend the people, territory, institutions and infrastructure of both the United States and its allies. New START fails to do this as it limits missile defense and encourages a return to a Cold War retaliation-based policy where U.S. cities and people were held hostage. This is unacceptable. Until the Obama administration is more transparent regarding the ongoing negotiations with Russia regarding missile defense, New START must wait.