A Better Way to Arms Control

Article excerpt

Byline: Kim R. Holmes, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Supporters of the New START treaty want you to believe that 1.) All who oppose it are nuke-loving troglodytes; and 2.) It's an all or nothing deal, the only way to a world without nuclear weapons.

They're wrong on both counts. Critics of New START do not oppose all arms-control pacts. But they worry that this treaty can lead to more instability in the world, not less. They think there is a better way to achieve arms control. And they are disappointed that the Obama administration negotiated a treaty pegged to yesterday's problems.

Today, the greatest nuclear threat comes not from Russia, but from smaller countries, like Iran and North Korea, with little regard for arms control. The administration insists that U.S. ratification of New START will set an example for Iran and North Korea. But the treaty doesn't apply to them and will have absolutely no effect on their nuclear-weapons programs. Irrelevant to the main nuclear threats facing America, New START is actually a throwback to the Cold War, when the great nuclear menace was the Soviet Union.

The pact also fails as a breakthrough mechanism for reducing Russia's nuclear might. Experts predict Russia's strategic forces will drop to 1,000 warheads, which is below the 1,550 level of accountable warheads in New START, with or without the treaty. It does, however, legally lock the U.S. into more reductions. As Yury Savenko, first deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, observed: Whether the Americans want it or not, they, after adopting the New START treaty, will give us a breathing space that we can use to reform and modernize the country's nuclear-missile potential.

So, if Russia's nuclear arsenal is getting smaller anyway, but its leaders believe locking us into reductions gives them time to improve it, why would the White House make New START the centerpiece of its arms-control strategy?

For two reasons: First, as a grand head fake. Focusing on U.S.-Russia arsenals calls to mind the great arms-control achievements of the Cold War. It makes for great theater. It also takes the spotlight off the administration's inability to stop Iran and North Korea, and possibly terrorists, from gaining nuclear weapons.

Second, the treaty becomes a vehicle for improving relations with Moscow. Russia wants us to sign because 1.) It makes Russia look like our equal; 2.) It forces us to reduce our nuclear weaponry; and 3.) It creates a link between strategic offenses and missile defense - Moscow's bete noire.

But what do we get out of it? For the privilege of dismantling our nuclear arms, we open ourselves - for the first time since we discarded the old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - to Russian arguments that U. …