The New START Threat to Missile Defense

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On March 26 the White House released a fact sheet on the New START Treaty. It claimed that the agreement signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev “does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs.”

But the Russians seem to have a different interpretation of the document they signed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrovtold reporters in Moscow on April 6th that Russia would exit the treaty if “the U.S.’s build-up of its missile defense strategic potential in numbers and quality begins to considerably affect the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces. … Linkage to missile defense is clearly spelled out in the accord and is legally binding.”


So which is it? Does New START place limits on U.S. missile defense or not? While an April 8th State Department fact sheeton “Ballistic Missile Defense and New START Treaty” mirrored the March 26th language, an “updated” April 21st State Department fact sheet showed significant movement towards the Russian position. It says, “The New START Treaty does not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible.”

Notice the change? The Obama administration has backtracked from “does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs” to “does not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible.” So are only the “most effective missile defenses” allowed by New START? As determined by whom? By the Russians? By Obama’s nominee to be Associate Director for the National Security and International Affairs, Office of Science and Technology Policy Philip Coyle? Coyle, by the way, has made a name for himself by questioning whether missile defense is technically possible, despite a proven track record of repeatedsuccesses by the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency. If a new U.S. President who actually believes in missile defense is elected, would that Commander in Chief be constrained by what President Obama and anti-missile defense advocates like Coyle thought qualified as “effective missile defense”?

This morning at 10 AM EST, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will hold its first hearing on the New START Treaty. The first witness is scheduled to be Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Maybe she can explain why the April 8th State Department fact sheet had to be updated with the April 21st version. Maybe she can explain why Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher used the April 8th language “the Treaty does not constrain U.S. missile defense programs” as opposed to the equivocal April 21st language when she testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 22nd.

And New START’s problems do not end with its constraints on missile defense. An independent assessment by the New START Working Group has identified other key problems with the agreement including: the possible exclusion of rail-mobile ICBMs from coverage under the Treaty’s launcher limitsthe lack of a proper definition of air-launched ICBMs under the counting rules and the fact that the U.S. and Russia have failed to agree on the matter of limitations on the U.S. missile defense program.

David J. Kramer, who spent more than eight years at State and now works as a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told Heritage’s Robert Bluey: “The Russians have to spin this at home as saying they have laid down markers on missile defense. Here in the United States, the administration is going to underscore that this in no way ties the administration’s hands on missile defense. These are rather contradictory messages coming from Moscow and Washington on a fairly critical issue.” The Senate needs to start sorting these contradictions out. Today.


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