Sarah Palin has written a polemic against New START. Greg Scoblete has observed that her stated concern for allied security ignores the overwhelming support for ratification from the governments most directly threatened by Russian tactical nuclear weapons. That’s true enough, but what needs to be emphasized here is that Palin’s objections are even more misguided than that. Someone might ask: why bother addressing Palin’s objections? They should be addressed because they are deliberately misleading, and because they are very representative of the typical anti-ratification argument. What is striking about Palin’s criticism of New START is that it is virtually identical to Romney’s criticism or indeed the criticism of any of the treaty’s opponents in the Senate, because all of them are reading from the same ill-informed script. In other words, the average Republican treaty opponent is making arguments that are no more informed or substantial than the arguments made by Sarah Palin.
Here is a passage from Palin’s polemic:
In addition, the recent reports that Russia moved tactical nuclear weapons (which are not covered by New START) closer to our NATO allies, demonstrate that the Obama administration has failed to convince Russia to act in a manner that does not threaten our allies.
That sounds worrisome, but the deeper one digs into the issue the more that it becomes clear that the report about the movement of tactical nuclear weapons is questionable, and even if it were true this would be argument in favor of ratification rather than an argument against the treaty. Dr. Jeffrey Lewis wrote about the report at some length earlier this month. I recommend reading the entire post, but here is Dr. Lewis’ main assessment of what the report actually means:
But as best I can tell, this is what has happened: Russia has begun the long-expected deployment of conventionally-armed Iskander missiles in Western Russia, starting with a unit near St. Petersburg. A small group in the US intelligence community has long argued that Russia is secretly developing, using hydronuclear tests, a low-yield nuclear warhead for the Iskander (as well as a new ALCM).
The Iskander deployment, as well as the debate about New START, allows that group to reprise their argument that Russia is secretly developing new tactical nuclear weapons.
Dr. Lewis offered these concluding thoughts:
In fact, Russia isn’t under many obligations any more. And that is really the problem here: Russia’s legal obligations when it comes to nuclear weapons are pretty few and far between these days [bold mine-DL]. Between various Russian statements about the PNIs and 1987 INF Treaty, US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and the expiration of START, Moscow is down to two: an obligation not to defeat the purpose of the CTBT and an obligation to make reductions outlined in the New START treaty (which supercedes the Moscow Treaty).
With the CTBT facing little chance of ratification by the US Senate, I am not sure I would count on Russia remaining under that constraint indefinitely. Which leaves us with New START.
The Entous and Weisman story was leaked with the purpose of discouraging Senators from voting for New START. Already, Senator Jim DeMint has threatened to filibuster the New START treaty, in part based on the claim that Russia is deploying tactical nuclear weapons near NATO.
To my mind, that is backwards: A look at the deep divisions within the US intelligence community that causes us to see new Russian nuclear weapons in every woodpile suggests the problem is that we have too little arms control: too few obligations, not enough verification [bold mine-DL].
It seems clear that, if we don’t have New START, we will need something like it.
Which brings us to the key question: Would rejecting New START make it more likely that we would get a better agreement on verification? Or a new agreement on tactical nuclear weapons? Or transparency measures relating to Russian testing activities at Novaya Zemlya?
No, no, and no.
If you don’t like Russian tactical nuclear weapons, you have to take it up with the Russians. And rejecting new START makes that harder, not easier [bold mine-DL].
The European foreign ministers who signed off on the pro-ratification editorial this week understand this, and as Europeans they have a far greater, more immediate interest in making it possible for the U.S. and Russia to begin negotiating on tactical nuclear weapons. Anti-treaty figures have latched on to this report of movements of Russian weapons in a bid to sow distrust and push undecided Senators into the anti-treaty camp, but if the report is true it is an argument for more extensive arms control measures and more verification. Ratification of the treaty will help make these things possible, and the treaty’s defeat will make them impossible. According to the very threat-hyping that anti-treaty Republicans are engaged in, New START should be ratified, and the sooner the better. Of course, even if that report is wrong, the treaty is valuable and mutually beneficial for many other reasons, but its value to American and allied security only increases if there is some substance to this latest round of fearmongering.
This is one thing in the treaty debate that has never made much sense. Treaty opponents are overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of people who viscerally dislike and distrust the Russian government, but they ought to be among the first to want to put Russia under a verification regime. As it stands, they are working very hard to prevent the re-establishment of any verification regime. Whether or not they claim to want some ideally superior means of verification, they are taking the position that the regime established by this treaty should not be implemented.
Despite the best efforts of some hawkish interventionists to pretend that arms control is a relic of the past and irrelevant to today’s problems, they are the ones most likely to portray Russia as an existing or emerging threat to its neighbors. They should be the ones most eager to limit and constrain Russia through treaty obligations. Even if they don’t believe that Russia will comply with the treaty, it is hawks who should want to impose obligations and limits on Russia’s arsenal. Instead, it is the most anti-Russian and hawkish figures who are effectively enabling Russian power. What is remarkable about this is that these are the same people who could not stop haranguing the administration for betraying Poland and the Czech Republic when there was no betrayal, and they are the ones who remain convinced that it is the administration that is giving in to Russian demands when Russia has obtained virtually nothing tangible from the “reset.” Now that they are presented with an opportunity to side with European allies in support of greater U.S. and European security, they have opted instead for a rejectionist position that would keep the U.S. largely blind to Russian activities, increase uncertainty about Russia’s arsenal, and add to allied anxieties about potential Russian threats.
Update: McCain’s amendment failed 39-57. Based on the amendment voting, we can get a good idea of where the dedicated Republican opposition to ratification is. Scott Brown, Bob Corker, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and even Joe Lieberman, Lisa Murkowski, Olympia Snowe, and Johnny Isakson voted yes on the amendment. That means that four Senators previously considered to be more or less in support of ratification just voted for a measure that would have scuttled the treaty. Obviously, the treaty has no chance if the supporters of the amendment go on to oppose ratification.
Second Update: There was another amendment vote Sunday. Sen. Risch’s amendment would have added language to the preamble stating a relationship between tactical and strategic weapons. This would not actually change any of the obligations in the treaty, but would have resulted in scuttling the treaty by forcing it to go back to negotiations. The Risch amendment failed 32-60.