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Arms-control experts launch salvo against Romney

Posted by Christopher Shea  July 7, 2010 02:57 PM

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Mitt Romney, the former governor and onetime (and future?) presidential candidate, recently delved into arms-control policy with an aggressive opinion piece lambasting the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the latest agreement governing Russo-American nuclear-weapons policies. According to Romney, writing in the Washington Post, the treaty could be the Obama administration's "worst foreign policy mistake yet."

The reviews from arms-control experts are in, and they're not very flattering to Romney. "Terrible, terrible, terrible," writes Jeffrey Lewis, of Armscontrolwonk.com.

Romney paints a picture of an American administration that allowed itself to be duped at every step by an aggressive foe intent on establishing nuclear dominance. "For example," Romney writes, "rail-based ICBMs and launchers are not mentioned" in New START. This "loophole," he argues--"presumably carefully crafted by Moscow"--would allow the Russians to amass dozens or hundreds of such launchers while the United States stood idly by.

This talking point has been around for a while, according to an analysis by the blog Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, to which Lewis directs his readers. Indeed, one section of the treaty does refer to "self-propelled launchers," which could be read as excluding launchers dragged by a locomotive engine. But elsewhere launchers are defined as devices "intended or used to contain, prepare for launch, and launch an ICBM." In short, rail-based launchers would be counted.

But there's a more basic reason the treaty does not mention rail-based missile launchers: the Russians abandoned them in 2002, and the treaty covers only existing missile systems. Writes Pavel Podvig, of Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces: "I should note that when Romney [writes] about 'reports of growing interest in rail-mobile ICBMs' he is simply making things up--there is no interest in reviving the rail-mobile ICBM program in Russia and there are no reports that would suggest that there is."

This morning, Senator John Kerry published a response to Romney, also in the Post, which makes some of the same points that Lewis and Podvig do, while also accusing him of pandering to the right wing of the Republican Party.

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