START Nuclear Treaty Places US at Risk

Thursday, 15 Apr 2010 11:54 AM

By Herbert London

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"Aquarius," the show, is in revival on Broadway and in revival in the Obama administration. The utopian idea of "the zero option," of eliminating nuclear weapons, of an apollonian globe where lions and lambs live in harmony, is alive and well and evident in the new START treaty.

Of course it would be wonderful if we had a world without nuclear weapons, but the genie is out of the bottle and weapons of mass destruction offer influence, prestige, and power even for nations that cannot adequately feed their people.

While the START treaty reduces delivery capacity of Russian and U.S. missiles, planes, and submarines using arcane accounting methods, the real issue, as I see it, is that Russia reserves the right to withdraw from the treaty if it deems missile defense deployment in Eastern Europe threatening.

The obvious question is, why should the United States Senate ratify a "conditional" arrangement? If the treaty is ratified (a likely prospect) the United States is committing itself to unilateral compliance. In other words, Russia determines on its own whether the treaty remains in effect. This is a truly unprecedented matter, one that may indeed violate national security interests.

Moreover, in an effort to convince other nuclear powers that they should embrace our disarming impulse, the president has circumscribed "no first use policy" to only those adversaries employing nuclear weapons and has announced that the U.S. will not develop a new generation of nuclear weapons.

I'm sure that this heartfelt gesture has resonated appropriately with Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad. It would take a leap of illogical proportions to assume that if the U.S. does not modernize, China, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan will follow suit.

This treaty also means in effect that the administration will not upgrade U.S. missile defenses. If they were to do so, the Russians would pull out of the treaty. The one major bargaining chip former President Reagan had in his negotiations with the Soviet Union was Star Wars or missile defense.

Now the Obama team is willing to give it away and receive nothing in return. The only way to describe this negotiating strategy is political ambition wrapped in the cellophane of naiveté.

One gets the impression that the administration operates from a view of what they would like the world to be, not what the world is. Unfortunately the globe is an unwieldy place where national interests invariably trump international equilibrium. There is no way to eliminate nuclear weapons so long as rogue nations cheat, the non-proliferation treaty is ignored without penalty, and nuclear weapons offer nations political clout. Who would care about a backward nation like North Korea if it did not possess nuclear weapons?

The fear for those of us who believe in "peace through strength" is this START agreement is merely the beginning of a unilateral disarmament campaign following a vision for a world without military tocsin in the air.

It is already rumored that the administration will attempt to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and limit defense deployment in space. What can allies like Taiwan, Japan, Canada, to cite a few examples, be thinking when the U.S. nuclear umbrella that affords deterrence is now laden with holes?

The voluntary abandonment of U.S. superiority in space technology and nuclear weapons could haunt our people and our allies. It is as if the U.S. is suffering from leadership fatigue and wants to halt the course of history.

However, historical forces march to their own drumbeat. What we may want — whatever utopia we may envision — is often undermined by the constraints of reality. As I see it, the administration hasn't learned that lesson. I can only hope our enemies aren't looking and listening too close by.

There is a Russian tale that takes place in a zoo where a lion and a lamb reside together in the same cage. Onlookers are astonished to see this unlikely union. At one point, a sightseer asks the zoo keeper how this happens. "Oh," he notes, "it isn't difficult. We put a new lamb in the cage each morning." If only the administration knew this Russian tale.


Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of "Decade of Denial" (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and "America's Secular Challenge" (Encounter Books).

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