Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy’s the Cable reports on a new letter from Senators Jon Kyl, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman to General Jones that essentially postures that they won’t support a new START treaty if the Russians complain about missile defense. The Russians, according to these three, want to include a provision in the new START treaty that allows them to withdraw from it should they feel that “strategic stability” has been upset by US missile defense efforts. As Jonathan Kaplan in Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher’s office explains:
Anybody who knows anything about treaties knows that it is customary to be able to withdraw for reasons pertaining to one’s national interest, so there’s nothing new or diabolical here.
One can only assume that Kyl, McCain, and Lieberman aren’t completely stupid. They know that providing an out clause in a treaty is not that big of a deal and, as Rogin notes, George W. Bush unilaterally pulled out of the ABM treaty. Treaties have mechanisms for sides to pull out. The Senators also presumably understand that getting the Russians to stop complaining about missile defense in their backyard is impossible. Yet to support the treaty these Senators are in fact demanding that an irrelevant provision be pulled out in exchange for their support.
This is shockingly transparent. The Senators problem is not with missile defense it is with START and with reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles more generally. Yet these three Senators aren’t willing to simply oppose the effort to get a new START treaty, because flat out opposition to continuing Ronald Reagan’s treaty would reflect a new tea-partyesque level of extremism. We are after all talking about a treaty that forces the Russians to remove nuclear weapons currently pointed at the United States.
Instead, Kyl, McCain and Lieberman want to make opposition to START about missile defense. They exclaim (pdf):
Even as a unilateral declaration, a provision like this would put pressure on the United States to limit its systems or their deployment because of Russian threats of withdrawal from the treaty.
So to clarify, Kyl and his cohorts are willing to torpedo a treaty because the Russians may sometime down the line decide to torpedo the treaty. In this view, because the Russians may threaten to pull out of the treaty over missile defense, there should simply be no treaty to reduce the number of nuclear weapons pointed at the US because of missile defense. That doesn’t make any sense.
Furthermore, the claim that the Russian threat will constrain missile defense by making the Administration cower is also a ruse. The Obama administration, after all, has been pushing ahead with their new European missile defense plan despite the START negotiations. In fact, they are currently greatly angering Russia and potentially upsetting the START talks because of the Administration’s decision to explore negotiations with Romania and Bulgaria to host land based missile interceptors. Ellen Tauscher confirmed the Administration’s commitment to its missile defense plan in speech yesterday standing next to the Russian Ambassador, “While nuclear weapons have a clear role, our deterrent extends beyond nuclear weapons. It includes developing better and more effective missile defense systems and strategies.”
What is clear is that the letter from Kyl, McCain, and Lieberman is not about missile defense, it is about Senators that are so extreme that they even oppose extending Ronald Reagan’s own treaty.