In New START, Russia Conceded Defeat On Missile Defeat

In conservatives rush to attack the New START treaty, many have overlooked a key clause in the preamble of the treaty. While much of the attention on the text of the preamble focused on the connection between offensive and defensive systems (missiles and missile defense), the treaty contains language in the preamble that gets Russia to importantly accept that current US missile defense plans have no impact on Russian security. The language reads:

current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.

Jeffrey Lewis of Arms Control Wonk dissects:

The New START Treaty would not last long if the United States developed extraordinarily capable defenses that would allow the United States to negate the Russian deterrent. That is precisely why even the Bush Administration sought to make clear that missile defense did not threaten Russia. On that score, I think missile defense advocates should welcome the preamble… That [language] is going to be useful at some point.

The Bush administration spent the last few years of its tenure desperately trying to convince Russia that US European missile defense plans had no impact on Russian security. These efforts failed. But, as Lewis notes, in this new START treaty the Obama negotiators were able to get the Russians to concede that US missile defense plans do not impact strategic stability. That is quite significant. Hence, far from constraining missile defense this treaty enables the US to proceed with development of its planned missile defense system.


Conservatives have complained that the Obama administration’s overhaul of the Bush administration’s European missile defense system plan last fall in favor of a new “phased adaptive approach” — which puts in place a system that is first directed at short and medium range missiles (the ones Iran actually has) and later develops a long range capability that could take out ICBMs — represented a concession to the Russians. The Russians may have thought that as well. But what became clear over the winter was that the Russians began to realize that the new US program is actually more capable than the old one. Hence, in December Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin tried to put the breaks on the treaty. This delayed an agreement, but in the end the Russians gave in. Phil Pan of the Washington Post reported on the Russian response to the START treaty, noting that many Russians felt they had conceded too much to the US, especially on missile defense:

A more obvious retreat by Moscow relates to missile defense, which Putin publicly insisted be included in the treaty as recently as December. Though the Kremlin applauded Obama’s decision to scrap the Bush version of the system, Russian officials have since voiced concerns about the regional shield Obama proposed instead, noting U.S. claims it would eventually use interceptors fast enough to strike a Russian intercontinental missile.

Nevertheless, in another case of the facts not getting in the way of partisanship, conservatives have not stopped trying to use missile defense as an argument against the treaty.