One of the main conservative attacks on the New START treaty is that it will constrain the development of our planned missile defense system. Despite repeated comments from officials – including Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher who stated bluntly, “definitely, positively, and no way, no how” does this limit our plans for missile defense – conservatives have continued to insist otherwise. John Bennett of Defense News reported:
Republican senators on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee used the bulk of their time to air their concerns that the Obama administration might stop or slow some missile defense programs “to appease Russia” and keep Moscow from withdrawing from the pact.
Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) even accused the administration of lying to him at a speech to the NDU Foundation. Kyl claims that a provision within the treaty prevents retired missile launchers from being converted to uses for missile defense. Therefore Kyl, and the conservative right says this is evidence that the treaty actually does contain “limits” on missile defense contrary to Administration assurances. In fact, Kyl apparently feels so personally slighted that he suggested he would be willing to try to block the treaty over it:
More important to me, the Obama administration negotiators were disingenuous at best in the way they described the wording on missile defense, and some would go further than disingenuous to describe what they did.
But these protestations are disingenuous at best. According to General Patrick O’Reilly, the head of the US Missile Defense Agency, these complaints are simply not true. In fact, New START, as the General says, “actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program.”
The General also dismissed claims that a provision within the treaty that prevents the US from using deactivated missile launchers for missile defense was a constraint of any kind, as conservatives suggest.
Relative to the New START Treaty, the New START treaty actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program… our targets will no longer be subject to START constraints, which previously limited our use air-to-surface and water borne launches of targets, which are essential for the cost effective testing of missile defense interceptors against medium and intermediate range ballistic missile targets in the Pacific area.
…The New START treaty also has no constraints on ballistic missile defense system deployment. Article V section 3 of the treaty prohibits the conversions of ICBMs or SLBM conversion to missile defense launchers and vis-versa, while grandfathering 5 former ICBM silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base already converted for ground-based interceptors. MDA never had a plan to convert additional ICBM silos at Vandenberg. Moreover, we have determined that if more interceptors are added to Vandenberg Air Force Base it would be less expensive to build a new GBI missile field, which is not prohibited by the treaty. Regarding, sea launched ballistic missile launchers sometime ago we examined the concept of launching ballistic missile defense interceptors from submarines and found it an unattractive and extremely expensive option.
These comments coming from the General in charge of the Missile Defense Agency poor cold water on the claims from Republicans. O’Reilly is making two points. First, that the New START treaty removes some of the limitations that existed in the old START treaty – particularly in regards to past restrictions in how we could test the missile defense system. Therefore it removes missile defense constraints.
Second, he notes that the claimed “limitations” only prevent the US from doing something that it had absolutely no intention of ever doing. General O’Reilly is crystal clear that converting retired launchers is unnecessary because it is both more technologically challenging and prohibitively expensive. O’Reilly therefore notes that if it was deemed that we needed to expand the system we could just build more missile silos, since it would be more cost effective to build new ones than retrofit existing silos.
So when Kyl essentially calls the Obama START negotiators liars for insisting START does not limit missile defense, he is in effect also calling General O’Reilly a liar.