Heritage Advocates Trusting Russia On Nukes

Yesterday, more than 40 members of the bipartisan Consensus for American Security, made up of retired military leaders and national security experts, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to vote on the New START Treaty by the end of the year. The letter highlights the urgency of the national security crisis being created by the absence of mechanisms to monitor Russia’s nuclear arsenal. The letter states:

Currently, we have no verification regime to account for Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons. Two hundred and ninety seven (297) days have elapsed since American teams have been allowed to inspect Russian nuclear forces, and we are concerned that further inaction will bring unacceptable lapses in U.S. intelligence about Russia’s strategic arsenal. Without New START, we believe that the United States is less secure.

The fact that the Right in the U.S. isn’t rushing to get New START ratified is a damning indication of both their foreign policy incoherence and how their animosity toward the President drives their views. The Right consistently clamors about how we can’t trust the Russians, yet if you don’t trust the Russians you want to have this treaty ratified yesterday and you want US inspectors back on the ground in Russia to start inspecting Russian nuclear missiles as soon as possible. This was David Broder’s point in August, when he noted that Jon Kyl’s lack of awareness of the verification gap was quite “the price to pay for ignorance.”

Yet the apparently pro-Putin Heritage Foundation in a new memo from the mysteriously anonymous “New START Working Group,” insists that there is no urgency to ratify the New START Treaty or inspect Russia’s nukes.

The two sides, in a December 4, 2009, joint statement, expressed their commitment, as a matter of principle, to continue to work together in the spirit of the START treaty following its expiration. Is the Administration now suggesting that Russia might violate this spirit of cooperation while the Senate does its due diligence on New START? Finally, the U.S. has 15 years of data on Russian strategic forces thanks to START, and the Russians are unlikely to significantly change their forces while the Senate takes its time.

This is simply jaw dropping. The Heritage Foundation apparently thinks that it is okay to simply trust the Russians because they deem it “unlikely” they will do any cheating. This is the same organization that puts out videos grouping Putin with Kim Jung Il and advocates building super awesome Gazillion dollar missile defense system on the pretty unlikely grounds that the Russians are out to get us. There is an informal agreement to follow “the spirit” of the START treaty, despite it not having legal force. But this was always premised on the notion that New START would be ratified rapidly since it is not that different from the old treaty. In other words, there would be little reason to fear Russian cheating, since in a few months time the treaty would take force.


But 300 days later we still have no treaty. And there is a real and present danger that should the Senate punt on New START that the spirit of this agreement will collapse. Believing it unlikely that a more conservative Senate will ever ratify New START, the Russians may decide to change their approach. Anyone the least bit distrustful of the Russian military should be very afraid of this outcome. Yet, in what has to amount to a massive betrayal of Reagan’s “trust but verify” statement, the Heritage Foundation is now saying, take your time trust the Russians.

Finally, Heritage claims that the Administration should have just sought a five-year extension of the START I treaty. I mean duh, why didn’t the Administration think of that? Maybe because you can’t simply unilaterally extend treaties. There were many indications that the Russians were not interested in extending the START 1 treaty as it was. If the Russians didn’t want to, it couldn’t be done. But furthermore, the US also wanted to renegotiate and update the treaty. Many of the verification and monitoring measures in old START had become, well, old, unnecessary, and burdensome.

But lastly, debating why or why not something was done 18 months ago is irrelevant — we are where we are and that is a place where the US is rapidly losing its intel on Russia’s nuclear arsenal. It is a place where we simply trust the Russians. If the Heritage Foundation believes it was a grave mistake for the Obama administration not to have sought to extend the original START treaty so that verification remained in place, then it should be important enough to them to urge the ratification of New START now. The fact that isn’t, speaks volumes.