Dishonest, Devious, and Dangerous
A close reading of John Bolton and John Yoo's ridiculous op-ed about the New START nukes treaty.
But don't take my word for it. Franklin C. Miller, now a private defense consultant, was the Pentagon's top nuclear planner—the civilian official who had the deepest knowledge of, and the greatest influence over, U.S. nuclear war plans—from 1985 to 2000. In hearings before the Senate armed services committee on July 27, 2010, Miller testified:
Based on my long involvement in U.S. nuclear deterrence policy and target planning, I am confident that the United States can safely provide for our national security, and that of our allies, at the launcher and warhead limits that the Treaty prescribes.
It's also worth noting that seven of the last eight commanding generals of the U.S. Strategic Command (which controls the nuclear arsenal), five former secretaries of defense, and three former national security advisers (including Stephen Hadley from the George W. Bush White House) endorse the treaty.
What do Bolton and Yoo—who almost certainly have never seen a nuclear targeting list in their lives—know that these generals and top officials don't?
But let us continue with their mendacities:
"The treaty's constraints on launching platforms [missiles and bombers] would impede Washington's ability to use conventional warheads even in conflicts far from any Russian interest or responsibility."
They're referring here to Prompt Global Strike, a program to place non-nuclear warheads in the nosecones of some intercontinental ballistic missiles (which currently hold nuclear warheads) so that we can swiftly strike targets in remote areas far away from our air bases and aircraft carriers.
Two things are worth noting. First, Global Strike isn't in production; Pentagon officials haven't yet decided whether they want it. Second, New START doesn't block or even "impede" us from deploying the system. It only states that, if we do deploy it, the ICBMs have to be counted as if they still carried nuclear warheads. This is reasonable. The nuclear warheads could be put back in the nosecones in a matter of hours, if someone wanted. (If the Russians had a system like this, we'd want it to be counted as a nuclear missile, too.) Finally, it's not a big deal. The plans for Global Strike envision a few dozen missiles at most—out of 450 ICBMs.
"There are plenty of other deficiencies [in the treaty], from inadequate verification provisions …"
The verification provisions are, in some ways, more extensive than those of previous treaties. More pertinent is this: Bush's arms-reduction treaty expired at the end of last year; we currently have no inspectors on the ground in Russia; unless New START is ratified, we will continue to have no verification at all.
"… to leaving Moscow's extensive tactical nuclear weapons capabilities unlimited."
True, New START does not place any limits on tactical (i.e., short-range) nuclear weapons. Nor does it have anything to say about biological, chemical, conventional, or any other kinds of weapons. Nor have any of the other strategic arms treaties negotiated and ratified in the last 40 years. Your point?
"New START also reflects the Obama administration's lack of seriousness about national missile defense. Its preamble accepts an unspecified 'interrelationship' between nuclear weapons and defensive systems. Politically, even if not in treaty language, the Russians get what they want: no significant United States efforts on missile defense."
All this is absurd. First, Obama's defense budget for Fiscal Year 2011 requests $10.4 billion for missile defense, $700 million more than the year before. This is fairly serious. Second, the preamble, as officials have said repeatedly, has no binding power. (Notice: Even Bolton and Yoo concede there are no restrictions on missile defense "in [the] treaty language.")
It is an undeniable fact that a relationship between offensive and defensive arms does exist. If Country A and Country B have small arsenals of offensive nuclear weapons, and if Country A has a vast missile-defense system as well, it could launch a nuclear first strike against Country B's arsenal; and if Country B fires back, Country A could use its defensive system to shoot B's missiles down. This apparently is a scenario the Russians genuinely fear, though it lies a decade or so down the road. Until then, each side has more than enough offensive arms to overwhelm any missile-defense program. For now, the U.S. missile-defense program is capable, if at all, only to suppress attacks by countries like North Korea or (perhaps someday) Iran.
Meanwhile, though, the Russians, far from getting "what they want," get nothing, at least on this point. In part because of the alarm raised by pro-missile-defense senators, the Obama administration has inserted its own unilateral statement in the treaty's preamble, explicitly (if redundantly) noting that the treaty does nothing to interfere with its missile-defense plans.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of missiles by iStockphoto/Thinkstock.