Starting Arms Talks All Over

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 2, 2009 | Go to article overview

Starting Arms Talks All Over


Byline: Kim Holmes, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Obama has started planning a new round of nuclear arms negotiations with the Russians. He apparently hopes to rid the world of nuclear weapons. This indeed could be an opportune time to rethink arms control. And who doesn't want a world safe from nuclear Armageddon?

The real question is: Which arms control strategy can best make this a reality and also achieve security? That's the ultimate purpose of U.S. policy.

Surely a world without nuclear weapons is safer than one with them. But this insight is not particularly helpful for guiding arms control talks. Nuclear arms exist and, regardless of what we may want, many countries want to keep them. An exclusive focus on eliminating all nuclear weaponry distracts from the larger, more important goal of security. After all, the reason to rid ourselves of nukes is to make us safe, not simply to cut up missiles. Someday we may reach the point where nuclear missiles are no longer usable, but how we get there may require more than simply trying to ban them outright.

We need to think about arms control differently. Rather than making the process an end in itself, we should focus on the outcome of making the world safer. Strategic forces should be mainly defensive in nature, in keeping with the principle of nonaggression. Think of an arms control agreement as a sort of nonaggression pact in terms of strategic forces. The purpose of these forces would be first to deter offensive attacks and then to defeat them, should that fail.

Arms control agreements can steer this process, encouraging both sides to reduce their offensive missiles and to make sure the remaining missiles don't purposely target population centers. Over time, strategic defenses against offensive missiles would be integrated into America's and Russia's force postures, even to the point where the two nations would deploy and operate strategic defenses cooperatively.

The road map to such an outcome is outlined in a forthcoming paper by Heritage analyst Baker Spring and Andrei Shoumikhin, an expert on Russian arms control policy at the National Institute for Public Policy. They recommend that we:

* Let the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expire. START, ratified in 1994, expires in December. It would be best to let it lapse rather than negotiate a new agreement with Russia under a tight deadline, as rushed agreements on matters as technical as arms control almost always end up flawed. On Wednesday, however, Mr. Obama decided to do exactly the opposite, declaring at a London meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that negotiators have been told to have the broad outlines of a new treaty ready by the end of July.

* Negotiate verification and transparency protocol to the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, better known as the Moscow Treaty. …

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