December 23, 2010


START of a Pyrrhic Victory? (Dimitri K. Simes, Paul J. Saunders, December 23, 2010, National Interest)

[S]enator John Kerry’s statement that the treaty is “historic” dramatically lowers the standards for evaluating Senate actions, especially at a time when no one really fears a U.S.-Russian nuclear confrontation. Perhaps most telling is today’s coverage in the New York Times; notwithstanding the paper’s frequent editorials, news executives put the ratification vote on page six.

More important, the gains from ratifying New START cannot be separated from the process—and the process is likely both to limit New START’s benefits and to impose costs in other areas. The administration argued that ratification during the lame-duck session was essential to avoid any further gap in mutual verification. This is a weak argument, however, in that there has already been a substantial gap since the original START treaty expired, neither side suspects the other of planning a nuclear attack, and each side has a technical ability to monitor the other’s weapons. In fact, an administration official speaking at The Nixon Center a few weeks ago essentially admitted that verification would only become a problem over a longer time frame.

Notwithstanding efforts to make a strategic case, the administration’s decision to press hard for ratification now seems to have been largely politically motivated, whether due to concern about securing more Republican support in the incoming Senate, the desire for a foreign-policy accomplishment to show that the president could still lead after the midterm elections, or some combination of both. With this in mind, it should not be surprising that politics also shaded the approach of some Senate Republicans to the treaty. It was precisely the treaty’s nonhistoric character that virtually ensured it would be subject to political as well as substantive scrutiny.

Obama Is No Reagan on Nuclear Disarmament (Amanda Kempa, 12/23/10, Der Spiegel)
[N]o president since Reagan has been as committed to the goal of nuclear abolition as President Barack Obama. Unlike Reagan, however, Obama's vision of arms control is largely shaped by the Cold War doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Indeed, although it is clearly in the best interest of US national security, the logic underpinning the New START treaty is rooted in MAD. Until the Obama administration articulates a new vision of arms control for a post-Cold War, multipolar world as Reagan did for a bipolar one, the president's goal of nuclear abolition will not be realized.

During the Cold War, MAD came to dominate the nuclear relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. The doctrine posited that nuclear deterrence rested on each side retaining the ability to inflict severe damage on the other, even if hit with a first strike. Reagan disliked MAD intensely. He found the idea of intentionally basing stability on the possibility of civilians being killed on a massive scale to be immoral and dangerous. As he put it, MAD was like an Old West standoff with "two westerners standing in a saloon aiming their guns at each others' head -- permanently."

Furthermore, Reagan appeared to understand another limitation of the doctrine: Even if mutual vulnerability deters your adversary from attacking you, how do you ensure it does not attack your allies? With your own population essentially being held hostage, how do you retaliate? At best, MAD makes the extension of reliable security guarantees to allies extremely problematic. At worst, it can prompt nuclear proliferation, with insecure allies feeling compelled to develop nuclear deterrents of their own.

Reagan's thinking on this dilemma focused on two main ideas: strategic missile defense (SDI) which would provide US allies with a credible security guarantee and that he hoped would eventually be globalized, coupled with arms control treaties whose ultimate objective was the total abolition of nuclear weapons. Thus, although for Reagan agreements that limited the number of nuclear weapons or improved verification procedures were a crucial first step in arms control, they were not an end in themselves. Hence his insistence that the name of US-Soviet arms control negotiations be changed from SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) to START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks), to underscore the point that the goal was to reduce and ultimately abolish nuclear weapons, not merely to limit them. The merits of Reagan's approach are debatable. However, the fact that it was a clear theoretical break with previous US arms control strategy that had been based on intentionally maintaining equivalence of forces and the potential for mutual destruction, is not. Reagan's goal was not to stabilize the system but to overturn it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 23, 2010 1:48 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus