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Wikileaks and the Non-Scandal Regarding New START

I was wondering if anyone was going to take the bait of running with the completely discredited Wikileaks-related story on Britian and New START, and Andrew Roberts doesn’t disappoint. It’s a story that is really tailor-made for certain hawkish administration critics. These hawks are convinced that Obama has been sabotaging the “special relationship,” which most Britons correctly believe to be a lopsided scam that harms British interests, and they were absolutely sure that New START was disastrous. In other words, they are very often as wrong as it is possible to be.

It was inevitable that some of them would latch onto the story that claimed that the U.S. had compromised British nuclear secrets as part of the New START deal. There is just one small problem with this. It is absolutely untrue.

Via Doug Mataconis, the State Department explained what actually happened:

This is bunk. Under the 1991 START Treaty, the U.S. agreed to notify Russia of specific nuclear cooperation with the United Kingdom, such as the transfer of SLBM’s [submarine launch ballistic missiles] to the UK, or their maintenance or modernization. This is under an existing pattern of cooperation throughout that treaty and is expected to continue under New START. We simply carried forward and updated this notification procedure to the new treaty. There was no secret agreement and no compromise of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent.

Not that it is surprising, but a source inside the British government confirms the State Department’s version of events. All of this was sorted out over the weekend, so I don’t understand why Roberts’ column was published at all. Unfortunately, this seems to be how many people use the leaked cables. Roberts picked up on a claim based on a misunderstanding of one cable that has already been ripped out of context, and he then fit it into his ready-made, paranoid narrative of the horrible anti-British Obama administration. This story got off the ground mainly thanks to general ignorance about the terms of arms control agreements, and it has been kept alive this long by people who very much wanted to see the new treaty fail. These leaks seem to be best-suited to fueling conspiracies and reinforcing existing ideological prejudices.

Update: Jake Tapper has explained how the treaty relates to British SLBMs.

Second Update: Dr. Jeffrey Lewis discussed Britain’s nuclear deterrent in some detail in this post in December 2008, and added a bit more in another post from late 2009, which helps to provide some background and to explain just how unremarkable this part of the agreement is.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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