Obama Seeks New START – While NeoConservatives Betray Reagan’s Legacy

July 1, 2009

Next week President Obama will travel to Moscow to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. From the outset of his Administration, President Obama has sought to reset U.S.-Russian relations. Over the last eight years, U.S. policy rested on maintaining the superficial personal relationship between Bush and Putin, which failed to result in any tangible achievements and led to growing estrangement in U.S.-Russian relations. The Obama administration has sought to eliminate this superficiality and develop a more business-like relationship that is focused on core issues of mutual interest and concern that produces verifiable results.  Chief among these issues is non-proliferation and arms control – issues that former President Reagan also prioritized in his dealings with Russia. US-Russian negotiations for the replacement of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which is due to expire December 5th, resumed last week – marking the first time in eighteen years the world’s two largest nuclear powers have negotiated a binding and verifiable agreement to reduce their arsenals. At their July 6th summit, Obama and Medvedev will review progress – and both have suggested that the new treaty will mark the foundation for better relations, possibly laying the groundwork for further cooperation on other issues of tremendous importance to the United States, such as Afghanistan, the Middle East, international climate change negotiations, and Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs.

Developing a new treaty should have unanimous bipartisan support in the United States. The original START treaty was signed in 1991 by the first President Bush following nearly a decade of negations by President Reagan. Additionally, the “four horsemen,” former Secretaries of State Kissinger and Shultz, former Secretary of Defense Perry and former Senator Nunn, as well as Brent Scowcroft, are all vocally in favor of a new treaty. Yet despite widespread bipartisan support, Reagan’s legacy on arms control is being undercut by members of his own party. Certain hard line conservatives, like Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, and neoconservatives, such as John Bolton and Richard Perle, are determined to unravel over three decades of progress on arms control. Their obstructionism must be overcome.

START replacement treaty is the key agenda item for the Obama-Medvedev meeting. Following on the bipartisan arms control efforts of past Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, President Obama is making START an administration priority.  The Wall Street Journal reports, “The U.S. and Russia are expected to launch new talks aimed at reducing the number of strategic and other nuclear weapons on both sides, a senior Obama administration official said Tuesday, in an ambitious effort that could help ease bilateral tensions over other issues as well.” The START treaty, which is set to expire on December 5th, facilitates the reduction of nuclear stockpiles by decommissioning former Soviet/Russian nuclear warheads, which reduces the risks of these materials falling into the hands of terrorists. A START follow-on will secure more Russian nuclear materials; rebuild a significant US-Russian partnership on broader nuclear issues; and boost global efforts to control the most deadly weapons and materials. The original START was first spearheaded by Ronald Reagan and signed by George H.W. Bush, and there remains tremendous bipartisan support for renewing this treaty.  A recent bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations task force, chaired by William Perry and Brent Scowcroft, “supports efforts to renew legally binding arms control pacts with Russia by seeking follow-on agreements to START and the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). The report also urges the United States and Russia to initiate a serious strategic dialogue, because it is only through such engagement that they can open up opportunities for deeper reductions in their arsenals and gain a better sense of the feasibility of moving toward multilateral nuclear arms control.” As Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, of the Arms Control Association writes, “[t]he landmark 1991 START agreement reduced excess nuclear stockpiles and provided greater predictability and stability. START slashed each nation’s strategic warhead deployments from about 10,000 to less than 6,000, and it limited each country to no more than 1,600 strategic delivery systems. START helped build the confidence and stability necessary to eliminate Cold War-era tensions.” A reduction of stockpiles between the two countries would reduce the possibility of theft or illicit sales – and heighten the incentive for other countries to take the problem seriously.  In addition the START I contains strict verification mechanisms, that later treaties, including SORT, lack and depend upon.  This makes a new START agreement all the more important.  [Wall Street Journal, 7/1/09. Council on Foreign Relations, 4/09.  Daryl Kimball, 6/19/09]

START is the beginning of a longer effort to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons. 
The negotiation of a START replacement paves the way for future nonproliferation efforts.  As a recent Council o Foreign relations report states, “The expiration of START in December 2009 provides the administration with an opportunity to work with Russia to create a follow-on treaty that can lead to deeper cuts in the American and Russian nuclear arsenals.”  And Stephen Pfifer of the Brookings Institution says, “By cutting their strategic arms, the United States and Russia can lead in strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.” The Wall Street Journal explains that, “The effort [to develop a new START treaty] would begin one of the most ambitious arms-control agendas ever — and one of the trickiest, arms-control experts said… The administration official said both sides intend to pivot to new, broader arms-control talks by December, as soon as the first treaty is concluded. That treaty would reduce strategic weapons — deployed nuclear weapons which could be used by each country against the other — to fewer than 1,700 apiece, and limit delivery vehicles for such weapons to fewer than 1,600.” President Obama first laid out his agenda for nonproliferation at a speech in Prague earlier this year.  He stated, “To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year. President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding and sufficiently bold. And this will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor.  To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty… We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.”[Council on Foreign Relations, 4/09. Brookings Institution, 6/24/09. Wall Street Journal, 7/1/09. Barack Obama, 4/5/09.]

U.S. cooperation with Russia vital not just for nonproliferation, but for other key national security priorities.  The U.S. – Russia relationship is too important to rest on the personality politics, as it did during the Bush administration.  In order for the U.S. to solve pressing national security dilemmas, it must put its relations with Russia back on solid, strategic footing.  After a meeting this week with his Russian counterpart, General Makarov, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen remarked on the areas of mutual interest in the context of hard security, “There are areas of common interest that we agree we need to work on – Afghanistan – logistic support to the Afghanistan conflict, the issue of counterterrorism, the issue of Iran.”  On Afghanistan, Russia hopes to prevent the growth of an insurgency that could threaten its interests.  In that spirit, Russia has offered assistance to the U.S. – led international mission to stabilize the country.  AFP reports that “[t]he United States and Russia may soon sign a deal boosting the transit of US supplies to Afghanistan through Russia, the Kommersant daily reported Monday, citing diplomatic sources.”  The deal would reportedly involve “a dozen US planes flying over Russia each day with military cargos, rather than just rail shipments of non-lethal supplies as Moscow now allows,” according to the original article in the Kommersant Daily.  Recent developments have also clarified the importance of Russian involvement in developing an international response to both Iran and North Korea.  Russia’s relationship with Iran means that it will be an indispensable interlocutor for any effort to dissuade the country from further developing its nuclear program. Russia has also been cooperative in responding to North Korea’s recent belligerence. According to the New York Times, the latest round of UN sanctions would not have been possible without Russia and also China, which are “the closest thing North Korea has to friends,” both “agreed to a mixture of financial and trade restrictions designed to choke off military development.”  Apart from traditional security concerns, Russia is also at the nexus of energy and climate change.  A recent Center for Naval Analysis report cites Russia’s status as the “world’s largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest exporter of oil” making U.S. – Russia relations a key energy security consideration.  In addition, the Center for American Progress points out that “If the European Union is disaggregated, Russia is the third-largest emitter of carbon dioxide behind the United States and China and still currently ahead of India. More importantly Russian per capita emissions are on the rise, and are projected at this point to approach America’s top rank as per capita emitter by 2030,” suggesting that “[m]aking Russia a partner on these issues could be critical in order to advance a sound global climate change agenda.”  And, as Robert Levgold observes in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, “attempts to reform international financial and security institutions will be optimized only if Russia is given a chance to contribute constructively.” [Admiral Michael Mullen, 6/29/09. AFP, 6/29/09. NY Times, 6/12/09. CNA, May 2009. CAP, 6/30/09. Foreign Affairs, July/August 2009]

Yet despite bipartisan support, Reagan’s legacy, and the importance to our national security, neoconservatives oppose new START treaty.
Extreme conservatives such as Senator Jon Kyl and neoconservatives Richard Perle and John Bolton are trying to thwart the Administration’s efforts on arms control. Jon Kyl held up nominations vital to arms control, including Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) for Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and Kurt Campbell, for Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, which is especially dangerous in light of North Korea’s belligerence. In an op-ed yesterday Kyl and neoconservative Richard Perle argue, “There is a fashionable notion that if only we and the Russians reduced our nuclear forces, other nations would reduce their existing arsenals or abandon plans to acquire nuclear weapons altogether. This idea, an article of faith of the ‘soft power’ approach to halting nuclear proliferation, assumes that the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be curtailed or abandoned in response to reductions in the American and Russian deterrent forces.” But Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation rebuffs this critique, “The existing U.S. arsenal of thousands of nuclear weapons has not prevented Iran and North Korea from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.  Moreover, Kyl and Perle do not bother to explain how such an arsenal is relevant to combating the threat posed by nuclear terrorism, two words which are conspicuously absent from their piece.  Nearly every security expert agrees that the threat of nuclear terrorism is the gravest threat to U.S. security.  Yet the U.S. nuclear stockpile, which serves as a deterrent against state use of nuclear weapons, is irrelevant to the threat of terrorists using nuclear weapons. There is no terrorist ‘homeland’ to threaten with an overwhelming response.  Today, more nuclear weapons mean more opportunities for accidents or theft.” [The Cable, 6/22/09. Jon Kyl and Richard Perle, 6/30/09. Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation, 6/30/09]

What We’re Reading

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserted that his electoral victory represented the failure of his enemies’ attempts at a “soft overthrow.” Iran’s chief of staff, Hassan Firouzabadi, was quoted as saying that European countries are not qualified to participate in nuclear talks until they apologize for “interference” in post-election riots. The Iranian authorities temporarily shut down the newspaper run by failed presidential contender Mahdi Barroubi, as part of an effort to contain and silence the opposition movement.

The Organization of American States gave Honduras three days to reinstate the deposed president, Manuel Zelaya. The newly appointed interim president, Roberto Micheletti, threatened to arrest Zelaya if he returns to Honduras.

The U.S. Treasury and State Departments announced actions against two North Korean companies in an effort to curtail North Korea’s ability to finance trade in missiles and nuclear materials. A U.N. official reported that food aid to North Korea has dried up in the wake of its May nuclear test, although its people’s need is acute as ever.

In China, the buying and selling of make-believe currency in online games like World of Warcraft has become so widespread that Chinese authorities are fearing it will affect the real economy.

According to an opinion poll released Wednesday, the vast majority of Pakistanis view the Taliban as a threat. Islamic fundamentalists in the country have begun targeting fruit juice bars, which are considered dens of immorality.

Iraq awarded a BP-led consortium a contract to develop an oil field, but the government was disappointed by its failure to secure contracts for seven other oil and gas fields. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, UNICEF is set to reopen its Iraq office, six years after leaving because of the war.

The U.N. has begun an inquiry into the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Al-Qaeda has threatened to “take revenge” on France for its perceived anti-burqa stance. French President Nicolas Sarkozy controversially told lawmakers that the traditional Muslim garment was “not welcome” in France.

Somali pirates released a Belgian ship and its crew captured two months ago north of the Seychelles.

A former Rwandan official was sentenced to 30 years in jail for his role in the country’s 1994 genocide.

Sweden
called on the E.U. to take the lead in fighting climate change.

Commentary of the Day

Carlos Alberto Montaner argues that the coup in Honduras reflects a conflict between two ways of understanding the role of the state.

Glenn Garvin claims there is nothing shocking about the Honduran coup, and faults “new-found defenders of Honduran democracy.”

Contributors at the New York Times celebrate Canada Day.

The LA Times applauds the return of Iraq to Iraqis.

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