Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) in a hearing this week exposed the logic behind Senate Republican opposition to the START treaty — the Soviet Union is out to get us. DeMint during the hearing not once, but twice referred to Russia as the Soviet Union in a line of questioning about needing to protect the US against a Soviet missile attacks:
DEMINT: When the Russians speak of missile defense, they feel the START treaty is a clear limitation of the US ability to develop any strategic defense system against multiple missiles such as those that could be fired by the Soviet Union. When we speak of having flexibility with missile defense we mean it is a nominal defense system that could shoot down isolated missile that was fired by a rogue nation or one that was fired accidentally by a super power…is it your understanding that the START treaty is an agreement that the United States will not attempt to develop a missile defense system capable of shooting down multiple missiles fired by the Soviet Union.
DeMint’s Freudian reference to the Soviet Union, is reflective of the right’s continued Cold War outlook toward Russia that still fundamentally sees it as an enemy. Heritage Foundation in its missile defense propaganda movie, 33 minutes, in fact even depicted Russia’s leadership, along with Iran and North Korea as enemy threats.
The right’s Russia paranoia is also a fundamental driver of its opposition to the New START treaty. DeMint and the Heritage Foundation want to develop a fanciful missile shield that is technologically impossible to build for the foreseeable future and would be astronomically expensive in order to insulate the US from a potential attack from Russia, thereby eliminating the current strategic reality of mutually assured destruction. The ultimate problem with this vision is that all that would happen is the Russians would massively build up their nuclear arsenal to overwhelm any new missile defenses. Thus, a massively dangerous and expensive nuclear arms race would be instigated that would in the end still leave us with the current strategic situation of mutually assured destruction.
Yet, even if you are in favor of a new Cold War like DeMint and believe a new arms race is a price worth paying for this mythical star wars type system, it still doesn’t make any sense for the far right to oppose the START treaty.
Importantly, the right is not objecting to the limitations on nuclear warheads included within the treaty – in other words, they aren’t saying the nuclear cuts are too much. Instead, they are saying that because Obama really wants this treaty the Russians will be able to constrain our missile defense development by threatening to withdraw from the treaty. But no matter what, this administration is not going to change 20 years of US policy and go in the direction advocated by Senator DeMint where the US explicitly targets Russia.
But even if the START treaty were ratified that would not limit a future president, such as Jim DeMint for example, from being able to develop his mythical system, since there is nothing in the START treaty that would prevent such future developments. If the treaty did limit the US, it would be in the treaty, not in some non-binding unilateral statement expressed by the Russians after the treaty was signed. Yes, the Russians would probably withdraw from the treaty, as they said they would, if the US did what President DeMint wanted, but why would DeMint care – he was thinking about voting against the treaty anyway!
But it is not just that START does not inhibit missile defense, it also has strategic benefits that even a President DeMint would think are important. For instance, as a DeMint administration was preparing to push the US into a new Cold War the US would possess real tangible intelligence of Russian nuclear forces as a result START’s verification measures (something that our military finds very valuable) and, since he believes Russia is a threat, with the START treaty in place tangible limits would have been placed on Russia’s nuclear forces. Therefore, if you are a right winger and want a new Cold War with Russia, it makes sense to have the START treaty in place until DeMint can be elected President.
This is why this treaty should be so uncontroversial. It doesn’t prevent us from doing anything we could conceivably want to do.