Dishonest, Devious, and Dangerous
A close reading of John Bolton and John Yoo's ridiculous op-ed about the New START nukes treaty.
Bolton and Yoo try to throw doubts on various "declarations" and "understandings" to this effect in the "resolution of ratification" passed by the Senate foreign relations committee. The two write:
"Senators cannot take these warranties seriously—they are not a part of the text of the treaty itself."
This is disingenuous. The treaty's preamble about the relationship between offensive and defensive weapons is not a part of the text, either, yet Bolton and Yoo present it as grounds for the senators to scuttle the whole treaty.
"To prevent New START from gravely impairing America's nuclear capacity …"
Again, Bolton and Yoo don't even mention how many warheads the treaty allows. As Franklin Miller and the former chiefs of Strategic Command have testified, this premise is unfounded; the treaty doesn't impair, much less gravely impair, our nuclear capacity.
"… the Senate must ignore the resolution of ratification and demand changes to the treaty itself. These should include deleting the preamble's language linking nuclear arsenals to defense systems …"
Again, this preamble is a mere statement—it's Arms Control 101—and imposes no restrictions on U.S. actions or policies.
"… and inserting new language distinguishing conventional strike capacities from nuclear launching systems or deleting limits on launchers entirely."
The first clause refers to the Prompt Global Strike system. Again, there is no verifiable way to make this distinction; a non-nuclear ICBM can be converted into a nuclear ICBM in a matter of hours. As for "deleting limits on launchers" ("launchers" meaning the missiles and bombers that carry the warheads and bombs), this is nuts. Do Bolton and Yoo really want to let the Russians build as many missiles and bombers as they'd like?
"Congress should pass a new law financing the testing and development of new warhead designs before approving New START."
This goes well beyond even most Republican senators' objections to the treaty. Nobody is calling for "new warhead designs." What kinds of designs do Bolton and Yoo have in mind? What kinds of capabilities do they think nukes should have that the current nukes lack?
Clearly, their article is nothing more than a call for indefinite delay and therefore defeat. They are not serious about amending the treaty or tightening some conditions. They just want to kill the thing; they want to deal Obama a defeat. Above all, they want to quash the budding détente that Obama has fostered between the United States and Russia, before it gets too deep.
If the Republicans follow this sentiment and fail to ratify New START, they will be making a huge mistake that could have dreadful consequences for national security.
These consequences have little to do with the treaty itself—both sides' nuclear arsenals are large enough to deter an attack, regardless of the fate of the treaty—but rather with international politics.
The "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations since Obama took office is very real, and not just for reasons of "soft power" and bonhomie diplomacy. Medvedev has cooperated in the most hardball games of world politics. He's sent Russian troops to join a drug raid in Afghanistan. More dramatic still, he canceled Russia's impending sale of S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran—and returned the Iranians' money. Had that sale gone through (and it was set to do so until the "reset"), Iran would have been able to shoot down any U.S. or Israeli aircraft engaged in an attack on its nuclear facilities. Without at least the ability to launch an attack, the United States (and, with it, the United Nations, the European Union, and other international entities) would have no leverage over Iran's nuclear program. We have limited leverage as is, but if the S-300s had gone through, Iran may as well have built and deployed a small nuclear arsenal. More to the point, the Israelis would have drawn that conclusion, and they probably would have launched a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian sites before too many S-300s were in place. This might have unleashed a larger Middle Eastern war, worldwide terrorist attacks, astronomical oil prices, and other catastrophes.
More generally, Medvedev—who seems to be more moderate and Western-leaning than Prime Minister Vladimir Putin—has solidified his power and reputation, in good part, through his relationship with Obama and the benefits that Russia may gain as a result (for example, in trade, counterterrorism, and a relaxation in tensions). If Obama is seen as a weak president who cannot deliver on the deals he's negotiated, then Medvedev, too, will lose credibility, and Russia could turn in a different, more hostile direction.
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 email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of missiles by iStockphoto/Thinkstock.