Mitt Romney's dumb critique of Obama's New START nuke treaty.

Military analysis.
July 7 2010 7:24 AM

Wrong-Headed Romney

Mitt Romney's dumb critique of Obama's New START nuke treaty.

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The thing is, this counting rule is to the United States' advantage, not Russia's. We have 113 heavy bombers; they have 77. So, if this is what Romney's ghostwriter meant to take note of, it's not a problem with the treaty, not from the U.S. point of view.

"Under New START, the United States must drastically reduce our number of launchers but Russia will not—it already has fewer launchers than the treaty limits. Put another way: We give, Russia gets."

As noted above, this is irrelevant. Both sides do have to reduce the number of warheads, which is to say weapons, and Russia has to cut more than the United States does.

"The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1.… Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured?"

True, the treaty does not limit tactical nuclear weapons. But this isn't a gotcha point; both sides explicitly recognize this fact. Obama hopes to tackle the issue in a follow-on treaty, though doing so will be very hard, since Russia regards its tactical nukes as a counterweight to U.S. conventional military superiority.

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Still, three points need to be made here. First, a Senate rejection of the treaty won't limit tactical nuclear weapons, either. If the choice is to ratify the treaty or reject it, the point is irrelevant. Second, the "nuclear umbrella"—the U.S. commitment to threaten enemies with nuclear retaliation if they attack our allies—is unaffected by the presence of Russian tactical nukes; the rough parity in strategic (or long-range) nuclear weapons is far more decisive. Third, I know of no source claiming that Russia has 10,000 tactical nukes. The number is classified (and probably not precisely known by anyone, perhaps including the Russians), but the real number is believed to be about 2,000, compared with the United States' 500 (and no serious strategist or military officer believes we need anywhere close to that many for any purpose).

"By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiated."

On the contrary, by all indications, Romney has been badly advised. Next time he speaks out on nuclear weapons, he should read up a little bit. At the very least, he should learn the difference between an ICBM and a bomber.

And if this is the best the Republicans can do to beat down the New START treaty, well, that's just sad.

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