Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The New START Treaty

by Taylor Dinerman

The Cold War might over, but until the Obama administration took power, almost no one in Washington took seriously the idea that the US should deliberately make itself more vulnerable to reassure the rest of the world of our good intentions.

Reducing the number of deployed delivery systems in the US arsenal to 700 at a time when when emerging nuclear powers are building new warheads and new missiles at an increasing pace would seem imprudent to say the least. The US still has solemn obligations to provide a nuclear deterrent for the NATO alliance and for Japan and South Korea. Under the ability of the US to credibly protect its allies will be even less credible than it is with today's limited and unmodernized nuclear force.

The New START Treaty with its dramatic reduction is the number of "deployed'"warheads cuts the US overall nuclear force to 1550, on 700 deployed delivery vehicles; and a total of "800 deployed and non deployed delivery vehicles." This category of non-deployed delivery vehicles is an [sic] cunning way of touching on the issue of reloadable silos, and, with the deployment of Russia's land mobile "Topal" missile, reloadable mobile launchers as well.

This Treaty gives the Russians a serious warfighting advantage: they will have land-mobile missiles -- possibly a larger number than we know about -- while the US has nothing comparable.

The Treaty's language on Missile Defense is politically and legally ambiguous, certainly there is enough substance in the agreement for a smart lawyer to tie any future administration up in knots if it wanted to substantially increase America's National Missile Defense system. It is interesting to see that Vice President Biden, claiming in the Wall Street Journal, that the recent agreement by NATO nations to protect Europe from ballistic missile attacks somehow justifies the agreement.: this is the same agreement that the Russians interpret as limiting the ability of America to defend its own homeland.

Even if the Missile Defense issue were somehow resolved, the cut in overall US nuclear firepower in an age when the weapons, missiles and bombers that can carry them are proliferating faster than ever before, seems imprudent, to say the least.. North Korea and Iran are forging ahead with their nuclear programs. All over the Middle East, nations such as Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and perhaps others are starting programs that look a lot like the beginnings of nuclear weapons programs. In Latin America Venezuela clearly seems to be embarking on a similar path.

In a world where most nuclear powers, including China, are increasing the size of the arsenals, why should the US follow the path of our West European allies France and Britain, and cut ours to the bone? A bilateral Russia-US Arms Control Treaty is as crucial as ever to today's geostrategic environment.

Within days of the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, American liberals had began to agitate for major cuts in the defense budget, claiming that all of the major weapons and other systems then in development were 'relics of the Cold War' and thus belonged on the ash heap of history. Thankfully, neither the George H. W. Bush administration nor, for the most part, the Clinton administration paid much attention, except rhetorically, to these calls for unilateral disarmament. What made the Cold War unique in the history of conflicts was not the proxy wars in places like Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola and elsewhere; nor the hair-trigger stand-off along the border between East and West Germany; nor the Arms Race; nor the massive propaganda war. The only truly original part of the Cold War was the central role played by "Arms Control" and Disarmament.

Previously these ideas had been used either as minor tools of political warfare. An early example was when Czarist Russia tried to use Disarmament proposals to improve its military position vis a vis Imperial Germany, in the years before 1914. In the 1920s and 1930s, the various naval arms-limitation pacts between the US Britain, Japan and, later, between Britain and Nazi Germany, were sometimes touted as harbingers of universal peace. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1920-1921 fixed the size of the fleets of the US, Britain and Japan at a ratio of 5, 5, 3. -- which gave Japan local superiority in the pacific over either the US or Britain. The Washington Treaty was regarded by extreme Japanese militarists as a symbol of national inferiority, which, for many Japanese, undermined the legitimacy of the treaty and of the civilian government that signed it.

During the Cold War, however, disarmament talks and Arms Control negotiations were the very essence of superpower diplomacy. Everything else, such as economic agreements, human rights, wars in the Third World, were seen by most observers as insignificant compared to the all-important drama surrounding the talks about the numbers, ranges, types, and characteristics of both sides' nuclear weapons.

Given the nature of atomic weaponry, this attitude may be understandable. From 1945 until 1991, however, the USSR successfully pushed a propaganda narrative that gave these weapons a special status, and blamed America for the terrible destructiveness that people feared and loathed.This campaign gained its greatest successes in the 1970s under Nixon, Ford and Carter, when the US signed onto a series of treaties, including SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) and the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) treaty , that put Washington at a significant disadvantage. The ABM Treaty killed America's attempt to defend itself against Soviet nuclear missiles . The SALT agreements gave the Soviets an effective monopoly on heavy missiles, and also ignored the fact that their missile silos were designed to be reloaded= -- a significant nuclear warfighting advantage.

These agreements were made at a time when most leaders in the West were convinced that America was in terminal decline and that it was time to get the best deal possible from the Soviets -- as epitomized by President Jimmy Carter's discussion of America's "inordinate fear of Communism."

After Ronald Reagan became President in 1981. things changed. Reagan refused to sign any deal he thought put the US at a disadvantage. The Soviets and their allies responded with a gigantic political offensive that included everything from Nuclear Freeze proposals and demands for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe, to well organized street protests and the all-out mobilization of the academic community against his military build-up. It was an impressive display of transnational political power, but it failed.

The failure of this effort to deflect President Reagan from his basic Cold War strategy, "We win, they lose," discredited the American disarmament lobby for roughly two decades. it was not until 2008 and the candidacy of Barack Obama, that the pre-1980 Arms Control concepts regained their standing in the American political arena.

While there are lots of good, solid technical reasons to object to this treaty, its incompatibility with America's role as a global superpower makes its rejection a "no brainer."

Taylor Dinerman

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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