Many people, even in the Administration, have argued that what the President wants to do is similar to what Ronald Reagan wanted to do when he talked about making nuclear weapons obsolete. I assure you this is not the case. I was working this issue in the 1980s, and nothing could be further from the truth, because while Reagan, like most people, believed we should reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons, he did not envision their complete elimination coming about through the treaty process.
To prove this point, I ask one question: Why did Ronald Reagan walk away from Mikhail Gorbachev’s offer to eliminate nuclear weapons if only we gave up the Strategic Defense Initiative? Why did Reagan not take him up on that offer? The reason is that Reagan believed strategic defenses were the essential ingredient in disarmament—the exact opposite of what Gorbachev’s vision was then and President Obama’s vision is today.
Whereas Russia wanted to limit our defenses in order to give its nuclear weapons a free shot at us, and since it couldn’t compete with us technologically, Reagan believed that only when our strategic defenses were advanced and successful enough could our offensive forces be safely reduced or even eliminated. In other words, he believed that strategic defenses made nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete, not treaties—which, by the way, he said must be met with a skeptical attitude of “trust but verify.”
President Obama’s New START has at least 12 fatal flaws, including limitations on missile defense that President Reagan would never have agreed to. Specifically, President Obama’s New START limits U.S. missile defense in five ways:
1. Paragraph 9 of the Preamble. As described above, this language in the Preamble established a bias against missile defense in the essential context of New START. It also establishes a logic that will impose ever-greater restrictions on missile defense as the U.S. and Russia pursue additional arms control steps. This logic will also direct that U.S. missile defense capabilities be reduced in accordance with the reduction in the strategic offensive arms of Russia because the defenses will otherwise “undermine the viability and effectiveness” of Russia’s offensive strategic force.
2. Paragraph 3 of Article V. This provision prohibits conversion of offensive strategic missile launchers to launchers of defensive interceptors and vice versa. While the Obama Administration has no plans in its missile defense program to convert launchers of offensive strategic missiles to launchers of defensive interceptors, it is a step that the U.S. has taken in the past. A currently unforeseen circumstance could make it advantageous for the U.S. to take this step in the future.
3. Limits on some kinds of strategic target missiles and their launchers used in missile defense tests. There is an array of provisions in New START that limit and restrict certain types of missiles and missile launchers that are used as targets in missile defense tests. Specifically, these are target missiles that share a first stage with strategic missiles limited by the treaty and their associated launchers.
4. Article XII and Part Six of the Protocol. These provisions of New START create an implementing body, called the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), and gives it a broad mandate to promote the objectives of the treaty. This broad mandate could permit it to impose additional restrictions on the U.S. missile defense program.
5. Article IX, Part Seven of the Protocol and the Annex on Telemetric Information to the Protocol. These provisions could be interpreted in a way that could lead the U.S. to share telemetric information from missile defense tests. While the provisions, even if applied to missile defense tests, do not impose a direct restriction on the conduct of a missile defense tests, they could as a practical matter. It is possible that the sharing of telemetric information from missile defense tests could be used by the recipient to determine what kinds of missiles U.S. defensive systems are able of countering effectively and what kinds of missiles they are less effective in countering.