For Mitt Romney, it's a non-starter.
The candidate for president in 2008 and possible candidate for 2012 is calling on Congress to hold off on a vote to ratify the New START pact signed by Russia and the United States to reduce their countries' nuclear stockpiles and to verify compliance.
"A treaty so critical to our national security deserves a careful, deliberative look by the men and women America has just elected,'' Romney said in an oped article in today's Boston Globe, referring to the half-dozen Republicans taking Democratic seats next month in the Senate. "The president is in a hurry for the same reason he has been in a hurry before: he knows that if his vaunted treaty is given a thorough review by the Senate, it will likely be rejected. And well it should be."
President Obama, Democratic Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, and his Republican counterpart on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, are pressing Republican senators to ratify the treaty during the last three weeks of the lame-duck session. Backers of the arms pact fear that the influx of Republican senators next month would stymie efforts to reach 67 votes for ratification.
Romney is counting on such a scenario. And he lists several reasons why he thinks the United States would be safer without the treaty, including the arguments that the United States would have to make steeper cuts in launchers and nuclear weapons than Russia would and that the treaty would also limit the conventional capability of US launchers.
He also contends the treaty is misguided because it does not address the vast superiority of Russian tactical nuclear forces. Arms control experts have said such tactical weapons, which are generally smaller and designed to target enemy troops in battlefield situations, have not traditionally been part of treaties dealing with strategic weapons, which are larger and target population and industrial centers.
He also insists the treaty would limit the United States' ability to install a missile defense program, a vital option given the emerging threat of Iran's nascent long-range ballistic program. Supporters of the treaty say no such limits are part of the treaty. The only language on missile defense is in the nonbinding preamble of the treaty, but opponents say the intent is ambiguous and contend the Russians believe such a limit would be binding.
That's a misreading of the treaty, says Daryl Kimball, executive director of Arms Control Association, a think tank that supports ratification. "Romney complains that New START's preambular language recognizes the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms. This is neither new (similar language was in earlier US-Russian agreements) and most importantly, it did not lead to any numerical or qualitative limits on missile defenses in New START."
Kimball insists the treaty allows the United States to better counter the medium-range missile threats from Iran or North Korea.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has written previous columns against the treaty in the Washington Post and the National Review.
President Obama's effort to corral enough votes to ratify the treaty this month has been gaining momentum. Republican senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both of Tennessee, and John McCain of Arizona have hinted they would be open to debating and voting on the treaty if Congress first passes extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, which are due to expire on Jan. 1.
The key obstacle against ratification has been a demand by Republicans, particularly Jon Kyl of Arizona, for more money and a stronger commitment to rebuild and modernize the United States' existing nuclear force.
Read a full response from Daryl Kimball, executive director of Arms Control Association, as follows:
Romney says New START limits Americaís options for missile defense. Wrong.
In reality, New START is a "missile defense friendly" treaty. The only missile defense "constraint" of any kind in New START is the prohibition on converting long-range missile launchers for use by missile defense interceptors, which isn't something we want to do. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, testified to Congress that there are no plans to convert launchers, and that if any new missile defense launchers were needed, it would be quicker and cheaper to build new ones. None of the critics have explained how this provision limits U.S. missile defense options in the real world. Moreover, O'Reilly explained that the treaty "...actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program [compared to the 1991 START agreement]," by allowing the launch of missile defense targets from airborne and waterborne platforms.
Romney complains that New START's preambular language recognizes the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms. This is neither new (similar language was in earlier U.S.-Russian agreements) and most importantly, it did not lead to any numerical or qualitative limits on missile defenses in New START. Moreover, the preamble also notes that "current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties" - a Russian acknowledgment that the 30 U.S. strategic ballistic missile interceptors currently deployed do not threaten Moscow's strategic nuclear retaliatory capability.
Also objectionable to critics is a (non-binding) Russian unilateral statement that New START "may be effective and viable only in conditions where there is no qualitative or quantitative build-up" in U.S. missile defense system capabilities and that such a build-up could prompt Russia to withdraw from the treaty. The United States issued its own unilateral statement in response, explaining that U.S. missile defenses "are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia," and that the United States intends "to continue improving and deploying its missile defense systems in order to defend itself against limited attack."
The Obama administration is going full-bore on its plans to increase SM-3 intermediate-range interceptor deployments in Europe. While some may bemoan the decision to revise the Bush-era plan to deploy silo-based strategic interceptors in Europe, the new plan better addresses the existing Iranian and North Korean short- and medium-range missile threat.
Romney says the treatyís compliance verification program is inadequate. Wrong.
The U.S. intelligence community and Secretary Gates say it is. Furthermore, without New START there is no verification program adequate to the task. It has been 365 days since U.S. inspectors were on the ground in Russia. The U.S. intelligence community CANNOT confidently assess Russia's nuclear forces without this new treaty, which provide MORE information about Russian strategic warhead deployments than the original 1991 START.
Romney claims that "we would no longer be allowed to witness the destruction of Russian mobile ICBMs and launchers." Wrong again. The treaty requires the verifiable destruction of any launchers above the 700 nuclear armed launcher limit. Romney complains that the prior provision for continuous on-site inspection of the principal Russian missile factory would be eliminated. That inspection tool from the original START was dropped in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration, it might have been useful, but itís not essential because this treaty has different, simpler limits on total strategic weapons deployments than the 1991 START did. If Romney is so concerned about it, he should be blaming the Bush administration.
New START allows up to 18 on-site inspections per year, including direct monitoring of Russian nuclear warheads, something no treaty has allowed before.
Moreover, the original START's 28 inspections had to cover 70 facilities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, as the Soviet nuclear complex was spread across these four now-independent nations. Today, all former Soviet nuclear weapons and facilities have been centralized in Russia, and New START's 18 inspections need to cover only 35 Russian sites.
Romney complains that New START only limits strategic nuclear weapons not tactical nuclear weapons. Yes, but without New START, there is zero chance we can limit Russia's tactical nuclear weapons.
New START limits the far more dangerous strategic nuclear weapons that can be delivered anywhere in the world within an hour. It is naive to suggest that Obama should have tried, for the first time in history, to convince Russia to limit tactical nuclear weapons. He claims these battlefield bombs give Russia an "advantage." Baloney. Most of Russia's tactical nuclear bombs are in disrepair, they are in deep storage, and they cannot be delivered intercontinental distances. To suggest that Russia would "deploy" short-range nuclear bombs on subs to "threaten the U.S. at home" is to engage in some fanciful fear-mongering.
To the extent we should be concerned about Russia's tactical nuclear weapons -- and we should be because they are a target for nuclear terrorism -- we should want to ratify New START so we can move on to further talks with Russia on all types of nuclear weapons (strategic and nonstrategic, deployed and nondeployed) as the Obama administration has proposed. By delaying or killing New START, we will never convince the Russians to reduce their old tactical nuclear weapons.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.