I don’t think we’ve written about the agreement between the Obama administration and Russia on a new nuclear arms agreement intended to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The MSM is treating the agreement as the foreign policy triumph Obama needs to round-out his record. But I see nothing that warrants triumphalism.
The text of the agreement has not been released, which is reason enough not to get carried away praising it — as they say, the devil is usually in the details. In essence, though, Obama and the Russians have agreed to a mutual reduction in nuclear weapons deployed for long-range missions, from a ceiling of 2,200 to between 1,500 and 1,675. The two militaries would also make relatively small cuts in the number of jets and land- or submarine-based missiles that carry nuclear warheads and bombs.
This arrangement is clearly in Russia’s interest. As David Satter of the Hudson Institute says, the deal would enable the Russians to maintain strategic parity with the U.S. while retiring large numbers of weapons they cannot afford to replace. Indeed, according to Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative, the Russians, unable to pay for their current nuclear forces, have already of their own volition cut the number of launchers to the treaty’s new level.
But what does the U.S. gain from the agreement? The administration claims that the deal is a significant step towards curbing the nuclear ambitions of other nations. But, as Fly observes, a minor reduction in Russian and American nukes (or even a major reduction, for that matter) isn’t going to cause Iran and North Korea to set aside those ambitions.
Perhaps the administration believes that the deal will enable us to enlist Russia in a quest to stop Iran from going nuclear. But such a view seems hopelessly optimistic. More likely, the Russians will demand more deals that serve their interests, such as explicit agreements limiting our ability to develop a missile defense, in exchange for small, meaningless measures directed at Iran.
But does Obama’s agreement hurt U.S. interests? Without knowing what the agreement says, this question is difficult to assess. The Heritage Foundation expresses its concerns here. J.E. Dyer identifies some technical concerns here.
For me, the key point is the agreement’s impact on missile defense. We will not be able to sweet talk rogue nations out of developing nukes, not even with the help of our “friends” the Russians. And we cannot be confident in our ability to deter some of these states from attacking the U.S. and our allies. Hence, the central role of missile defense.
Obama, it seems clear, has no interest in developing such a system. But Obama won’t be around forever. The key, then, is not to enter into agreements that will tie his successors’ hands.
Reportedly, the agreement contains only non-binding language on defensive missiles. It will be up to the Senate to make sure of this when it considers whether to ratify what looks like a very good deal for Russia and not such a good deal for us.
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