It is not every day that US Senators get worked up over nuclear deterrence theory. Toward the end of yesterday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing – which was the first hearing on the New START treaty since it was submitted to the Senate last week – Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Secretary of Defense Gates got in an animated and exasperated exchange with Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) over the START treaty and missile defense.
What is clear to everyone is that the START treaty has NO limitations on our planned missile defense program. But what the far right is concerned about is they want to create a mythical missile defense system that goes far beyond current plans and that specifically targets Russia and renders their nuclear arsenal useless. In other words, far-right Republicans, led by the Heritage Foundation, which is the leading preacher of missile defense gospel, want to eliminate the days of “mutually assured destruction” by building a totally impregnable Jedi force field of freedom.
However, Senator Kerry points out the obvious: if you can build it – which is a huge huge if – the result would only be a massive nuclear arms race. The fact is that the Russians, as well as the Chinese would simply start building more nuclear weapons and missiles to overcome these defenses and then the US, seeing that all of a sudden the Russians are expanding their missile forces, would begin to do the same, leading quite easily to a new massive Cold War-style arms race, where the United States is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a useless missile defense system and on new nuclear weapons. This all because conservatives have some asinine faith in some magical sci-fi capability.
But, and here is the rub, under the terms of the START treaty, we could still build this dangerous make-believe missile defense system – since the treaty does not constrain defensive systems. Now the Russians did say that if we pursue this capability, they would obviously withdraw from the treaty and start building nuclear weapons. But all this means is that should Jim DeMint’s conservative wing take over power and pursue their missile defense agenda a new nuclear arms-race is guaranteed. Secretary Gates also noted that DeMint’s desire to target missile defense against Russia is to the far right of where even the Bush administration was, as the system developed by the Bush administration was never intended to target Russia. Watch it:
DeMint is unable to refute the point that a comprehensive missile defense program will only prompt the Russians to produce more nuclear weapons. But following this exchange, DeMint tweeted and wrote on Heritage’s Blog that:
Senator Kerry proved why Americans have a hard time fully trusting the left to put American interests first in foreign affairs. While the goal of reducing global levels of nuclear weapons is noble, it cannot take priority over our duty to protect Americans. It seems the goal of this administration and liberals in Congress is to condition American security into parity with Russia, which makes no sense.
In reality, pursuing nuclear parity with the Russians is the way we create nuclear stability that prevents a massive arms race. The fact is that the only way to get beyond the concept of mutually assured destruction is not to build a destabilizing missile defense system, but to actually eliminate nuclear weapons. And this is what the Russians are most afraid of. If nuclear weapons are eliminated US conventional dominance becomes overwhelming, since Russian conventional forces are in such disrepair. Contrary to conservative assumptions, the existence of nuclear weapons actually make us weaker as the level the global power playing field.
DEMINT: But is it not desirable for us to have a missile defense system that renders their [Russian] threat useless?
KERRY: I don’t personally think so, no. Because what will happen if you get near that they do exactly what we both did over the course of 50 years – they will build to the point that they feel they can overwhelm your defense. Then you go back right into the entire scenario we had throughout the Cold War, which took us up to 50,000 warheads.
DEMINT: So we’re still at the point of mutually assured destruction?
KERRY: Yes. We certainly are.
GATES: One point needs to be clarified here. Under the last Administration, as well as under this one, it has been the United States policy NOT to build a missile defense that would render useless Russia’s nuclear capabilities. It has been a missile defense intended to protect against rogue nations, such as North Korea and Iran… the systems that we have, the systems that originated and have been funded in the Bush administration, as well as in this administration, are not focused on trying to render useless Russia’s nuclear capability that in our view, as in their view, would be enormously destabilizing not to mention unbelievably expensive.