The New START Treaty

On June 17, 2010, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (The New START), between the United States and Russia.  Featured witnesses included: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

One of a series of hearings in the Senate that concerned the ratification of The New START, much of the testimony and discussion offered on this day revealed a continuity of distance that remains between unilateral, multilateral, and global nuclear proliferation considerations. For example, through her testimony, Secretary Clinton explicitly placed emphasis on the significance of The New START as a major stepping-stone in efforts to “reset” and construct a safer and more transparent 21st century bilateral relationship between the United States and Russia. In return, she received numerous questions from Committee Members about whether or not the ratification of The New START would affect, limit, or hinder the deployment and development of American missile defense programs.

Despite the Russian government’s repeated expressions of unease over ever-expanding US commitment to missile defense, Secretary Clinton responded to the concerns raised by Members of the Committee by commenting that the United States and NATO would be interested in the participation and incorporation of Russian forces into a broader missile defense umbrella – to isolate and influence “rogue states like Iran or North Korea.” Since it is well-recognized that the United States and Russia possess 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, such an expression of interest in a broader multilateral missile defense umbrella should give rise to important questions concerning the level of consideration being offered to global interests in nuclear disarmament and universal nuclear abolition.

Centrally, how does the integration of US offensive and defensive missile capabilities, and it’s overall comprehensive nuclear posture, effect the perceptions, postures, and actions of others in relation to nuclear proliferation and disarmament? Would ganging up on Iran or North Korea reduce tensions or help to facilitate international conflict resolution, or might it in effect, militarily and politically pressure countries such as Iran and North Korea into feeling besieged and threatened by aggressive and conspiring superpower? If Iran or North Korea were to announce that they were building their own missile defense capabilities, would the announcement of such plans be greeted by US lawmakers as cooperative and valuable to the pursuit of global security? Or would they view such plans as a threat to the efficacy and power of deterrence?

From what was offered in the New START hearing, it is widely apparent that disarmament, as a superordinate goal and aspiration of international process, remains a long way off. The focus of unilateral and multilateral military and geopolitical hard power remains clenched to the most ghastly and horrific of sticks, with mention of the UN or global international concerns only recognized by great and super powers in so much as they can be useful to those who pursue national and multinational strategic interests.

The United States intends to spend $80 billion dollars on its “strategic nuclear complex” over the next ten years. Both offensive and defensive weapons aspire to become components and aspects of a larger and more comprehensive strategic nuclear posture. The integration of the two perpetually augments the geometry of America’s “deterrent” and destructive capacity, and should still be understood by those who seek to foster support for international nuclear abolition as a morose source of animosity toward our collective capacity to genuinely and realistically promote global security.

For peace-interested people of the United States, the choice between the strategic aspirations of disarmament or Star Wars should remain a clear one. The New START is an important step in arms reduction, in building constructive relations between former mortal rivals, and it declares American and Russian recognition of global interests, but let caution cast shadows of doubt over the abundance of certainty in America that missile defense is a safeguard against military confrontation. Though the possibility of nuclear conflict between the US and Russia is negligible, the nuclear arms race among nations has not ceased, cannot be controlled unilaterally or multilaterally, and will remain a nightmare of lunacy until directly addressed in a global, universal, and international context. Missile defense is useless against the threat of nuclear terrorism, and it leaves only the great game of super power within its purview.

To quote Nobel Peace Prize recipient Alva Myrdal, “I agree with the many who consider freezing all sorts of weapons systems a first step in a realistic disarmament policy.”
Why don’t we?

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