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New START debate: John Kerry responds to Mitt Romney

Posted by Rob Anderson  December 3, 2010 12:43 PM

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Editor's note: Last week, Senator Kerry made the case for why the Senate should ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, before the end of the year. Mitt Romney made the opposing case on the Globe's op-ed page today. In the post below, Kerry responds to Romney's argument.

kerry2.jpgThe Senate has been debating the new arms control agreement with Russia for six months and held over 20 hearings in all between the Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Select Committee on Intelligence. The Foreign Relations Committee conducted 12 hearings, heard from more than 20 witnesses, and approved the treaty with a bipartisan vote in September. Since then, Senators from both parties have engaged in detailed discussions over the fine points of New START with the Obama administration and a range of government experts. We’ve heard testimony from Republican foreign policy statesmen like former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger – both of whom support the treaty. But I have never seen Mr. Romney in the audience at a hearing.

So perhaps we should not be surprised that he weighs in, as he did last summer in another newspaper, with an ill-informed opinion that contradicts the best thinking from our military and civilian leaders past and present, Democrat and Republican. This isn’t policy on his part. It’s politics. And there is no place for politics in dealing with our national security.

Democrats and Republicans are working day and night with the administration to make sure we pass the best resolution of ratification possible to approve this treaty and keep our nation and our allies safe. So let me answer the first question Mr. Romney asks: Why the hurry? Because nearly a year has passed since the last American inspector had to leave Russia, and every day without a treaty is another day that we don’t know what is going on with Russia’s nuclear arsenal and another day on which the rest of the world questions whether the United States is still capable of leading the way toward a safer world by ratifying this modest and appropriate treaty.

The other points he makes are just as easily refuted:

  • First, unequivocally: Nothing in this treaty restrains the United States from pursuing a robust missile defense strategy to protect our country and our allies. Don’t take my word for it. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was first appointed by President George W. Bush, testified that the treaty does not limit our missile defense plans. So did two other Bush appointees -- the commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and the director of the Missile Defense Agency. These are highly respected military leaders. They know the treaty and they know our national security needs. Take their word for it.
  • Without New START, the only arms control agreement in force between the United States and Russia is the 2002 Moscow Treaty, which the Senate approved 95-0 despite the complete absence of verification procedures. The new treaty, on the other hand, gives U.S. officials the right to conduct 18 on-the-ground inspections a year at Russian nuclear sites and requires Russia to tell us whenever a strategic weapon is moved from one base to another or into the repair shop.
  • New START was never envisioned to address with tactical nuclear weapons, an area where the Russians clearly have numerical superiority. As everyone familiar with the arms control world understands and as the bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission advised, New START is an essential step toward the follow-on accord that will tackle tactical nuclear weapons. The point is simple: We don’t get to tactical nukes without first ratifying this treaty on strategic weapons. By killing New START, we never get to the tricky question of tactical nuclear weapons.
  • Russia may be economically less able to field as many strategic nuclear weapons as we can today, but does anyone want it to be the other way around? New START ensures that Russia will not exceed 1,550 deployed weapons in the next decade. Does anyone want more Russian nukes aimed at us or our allies? Gen. Kevin Chilton, who is directly responsible for our country’s strategic nuclear deterrent, told the Committee that New START would help him do his job and that without it the Russians would not be restrained from developing a new nuclear force and we might not know what that they were doing it.
  • The bomber counting rule is based on a similar one in the original START, and it reflects the system that our own military wanted then and now. In fact, it was Republican officials who invented the so-called “bomber discount.” The attribution rule was adopted because heavy bombers are not first-strike weapons and the discount encouraged Russia to favor bombers over missiles.
  • It’s true that our land-based and submarine-based conventional weapons launchers would be counted under the treaty – and the same is true for Russia. This does not restrict our program. Admiral Mullen told the Committee that the treaty limits reflect the Defense Department position and will allow us to retain a robust nuclear triad of land, sea, and air-launched weapons. The last thing we want to do here is open a loophole that would allow Russia to claim all of its missiles were conventional and then turn around and arm them with nuclear warheads at the last minute.
  • Mr. Romney has failed to read the history books just as clearly as he has failed to understand the new treaty. It was the administration of President George H.W. Bush that explicitly rejected Soviet efforts to add legally binding limits on submarine-launched cruise missiles in the original START. The last thing we want would be for Russian inspectors to be crawling around our submarines to confirm that they are not carrying nuclear warheads.

This is a moment for adult leadership and bipartisan statesmanship. I’d hope that Mr. Romney would acknowledge that anyone who aspires to the most powerful office in the world should aspire to nothing less than that.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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