START Treaty: When Will We Ever Get a STOP Treaty?

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The New START Treaty: When Will We Ever Get a STOP Treaty?

A Guest Post by Dr. John Bogen, M.D.

The First Atomic Blast "Trinity" Taken by Jack Aeby. July 16, 1945. The only color photo taken of the blast. Photo: PD

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review wrote an op-ed column titled  A Poor START for the online political website, RealClearPolitics on November 22, 2010.  Lowry questions why the New START Treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), signed earlier this year by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian Federation President Dmitri Medvedev, is being promoted as such a crucial issue by the Obama Administration that requires immediate ratification by the U.S. Senate before the end of the lame-duck session in December.

Lowry concludes that “the administration wants the treaty because it thinks it makes the Russians feel good and fosters a ‘reset.’ The benefits of reset are overrated, though. Yes, the Russians voted for the fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, but only after watering them down along with the Chinese. They have made it clear they won’t support more stringent sanctions outside the U.N.”

START’s History

U.S. Pres. Richard Nixon & Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev at the signing of the SALT I Treaty in 1972. Photo: Nixon Presidential Library

The history of the START goes back over forty years to 1969, when negotiations began for the original SALT I (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) Treaty between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). This ultimately culminated in the signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972.

In 1979, U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev signed SALT II, which was not ratified by the U.S. Senate in part due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan later in 1979. Nevertheless, both countries agreed to abide by the terms of the treaty until 1986, when, per Wikipedia, “the Reagan Administration withdrew from SALT II after accusing the Soviets of violating the pact.”

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which eliminated certain intermediate-range missiles for the primary purpose of enhancing the security of Western Europe.

START I, signed in 1991 by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, expired in December 2009, and with it, among other things, verification provisions that each country was actually in compliance with the treaty. (START II was signed by United States President George H.W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1993 and was subsequently ratified, but never activated. A START III treaty was negotiated, but was never signed.)

Russian Pres. Putin and U.S. Pres. Bush signing the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), better known as the "Moscow Treaty," 2002. Photo: The White House Archives.

The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), better known as the Moscow Treaty, was signed in 2002 by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, further limiting the numbers of nuclear warheads, yet failing to contain verification provisions. SORT expires in December 2012.

President Obama, who ran on a platform of a nuke-free world, took office in January 2009, and had his administration negotiate with the Russians a New START treaty as a follow-on to START I and SORT. This was signed in April 2010.

Lowry asks a legitimate question in his op-ed piece, why the sudden rush for ratification of New START?  As noted above, past treaties have been adhered to without formal ratification. The Senate and in fact the entire Congress faces more pressing issues, such as deciding on an extension of the Bush (43) tax cuts and dealing with the economy, not to mention immigration reform and energy policy.  Isn’t the New START a relic of a Cold War that came to an end almost twenty years ago with the dissolution of the old Soviet Union in 1991?  And in light of the growing nuclear threats from Iran and particularly North Korea dominating the news on November 23, 2010, why is the president pushing so hard for ratification of an obsolete treaty that does little to make the world safer from nuclear conflict?

We Should Be Negotiating “STOP” not START

Personally, I think any treaty between the U.S. and Russia that falls short of completely eliminating nukes is meaningless. Both countries have no desire for war let alone nuclear war.

There exists a new global war, to be politically incorrect, between a growing list of nations and Muslim extremists. Nuclear powers including the U.S., Russia, China, India, Britain, France, Israel, and Pakistan all face conflicts with radical Muslims. These jihadists have also murdered hundreds in Spain, Turkey, Indonesia, the Philippines, and several African nations. And that doesn’t even count Iraq or Afghanistan. Regional hotspots also exist with rogue nations such as North Korea having recently acquired nukes and Iran widely believed to be endeavoring to do so.

U.S. Pres. Obama and Russian Pres. Medevev signing the "New START" treaty, April 8, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo: Courtesy AP.

So, I believe New START is irrelevant in today’s world. The U.S. and Russia are moving towards smaller arsenals through attrition and both countries do not have the money to keep the numbers up. Regardless of the treaty, both countries still have enough nukes to destroy the world many times over. Does it really matter if you have 2,200 or 1,550 or 500 or 100 nukes? This treaty is obsolete even before it has been ratified. Inspections could be extended without even mentioning numbers, and the numbers would come down on their own through obsolescence.

Completely eliminating nukes from the arsenals (except for maybe a token number just in case they are needed for example, for asteroid mitigation–not unlike the stocks of smallpox kept secure in the U.S. and Russia, needed for the manufacture of vaccines should the disease reappear somewhere in the world) would be a bold step the U.S. and Russia could take.  This might reduce the desire for nuclear proliferation throughout the world, or at least embarrass rogue nations by making them appear less civilized (e.g. “We are civilized. Nukes are so ‘yesterday.'”).

Even if the U.S. gets nuked someday by a terrorist bomb via a shipping container smuggled into a port city, or by an ICBM from a rogue nation, the U.S. won’t respond indiscriminately with a nuke.  And that is the biggest reason to abandon New START – a treaty designed to reduce yet continue the obsolete military doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD).

Trident II-D5 Nuclear Capable Missile Submarine Launch. Photo: U.S. Navy/PD

The current conflict over New START ratification between Democrats and Republicans is purely political posturing and is meaningless from the national security standpoint. I disagree with Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) trying to get more money (which we don’t have) appropriated for modernization of our nuclear arsenal. However, he does have a valid concern that Russia wants to limit the U.S.’s ability to field an anti-ballistic missile system, which most certainly would be for protection against limited missile strikes from rogue nations, rather than to defend against Russian attack.  I also disagree with the Democrats for making this treaty out to be more important than it really is, and who just wish to deliver a foreign policy victory to President Obama, following his recent lackluster Asian and European trips. The political void of the November-December lame duck period is about as empty as Washington D.C. is every August – much ado is made about nothing.

Ratification of New START should hardly be the highest priority for the Senate when the economy, unemployment, tax rates, and the deficit / debt are far more pressing issues. The Congress and President Obama should get their priorities straight. And so that the Russians do not feel ignored, I would begin negotiations on START IV, a.k.a. STOP (as in STOP ALL NUKES), a much bolder push to lead the entire world away from dangerous and destabilizing nuclear weapons.

The Perfect War: 4000 Years and Going Strong

The conflict in the Middle East is the Perfect War.  That it’s 4000 years long and going strong is probably an underestimate.  It might be 5000 years.

At this writing Israel has invaded the Gaza Strip and cut it into three pieces.  Hamas, the political party that “governs” Gaza is not close to surrendering.  In fact, it is safe to say they have no intention of surrendering, even though it would save hundreds, perhaps thousands of their citizens’ lives (the death toll is already over 500).

Israel’s invasion, clearly a show of force to make up for their mistakes (and loss of face) in Lebanon two years ago, is a military operation that could easily end up in the text books of every military academy as an example of how to “do it right” against an intransigent enemy.  They have two stated goals.  One, find and destroy Hamas’ missiles and the routes (tunnels) to resupply them.  Two, destroy Hamas’ political machine.

Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  Who’s justified?  Who’s the oppressor?

I will leave that to the analysis of the historians.

But what I observe is pagent.  A perfect war scripted over millenia.  Rhetoric honed to emotionally charged but meaningless sound-bites.

Here is the latest:

From Hamas:

A senior Hamas leader made a rare appearance to rally his troops. Hamas’ second in command Mahmoud Zahar released a statement to Alaqsa TV stating, “By killing our children you legitimize us killing your children. By bombing our mosque you legitimize us bombing your synagogue. By bombing our hospitals you legitimize to us bombing your hospitals.”  ABC News

From the Israeli Government:

Israeli military sources told ABC News the overarching goal of the campaign in the Gaza Strip is to strike “a hard blow against Hamas” and to force the organization into a more amenable negotiating position “to bring about a more stable security situation for its citizens in the south.”  ABC News

From the United States Government, by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice:

“It is obvious that that cease-fire should take place as soon as possible,” Rice said, “but we need a cease-fire that is durable and sustainable.”

“Hamas has used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities, and has contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza and to a humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address,” she told reporters after meeting with Bush.  ABC News

From the United Nations humanitarian staff on the ground in Gaza:

“When women, children and babies are killed in Gaza, how can you say Gaza is not in a humanitarian crisis?” Christopher Gunness, a spokesperson for the UN relief operation in Gaza, told ABC News. “When hospitals are overwhelmed with patients, how can you not say Gaza is not in a humanitarian crisis? When bakeries are shut down, how can you say Gaza is not in humanitarian crisis?

“We are on the ground and we have a much better idea of the situation than those who view Gaza through the lenses of high-altitude bombers.”  ABC News

From Hezbollah in Lebanon north of Israel:

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a political science professor close to Hezbollah, says the group sees the ground invasion as a new phase in the fighting and in its potential involvement. On Sunday, local media reported that Hezbollah militants have been put on “high alert.”

“We shouldn’t overestimate Hezbollah’s restraint. … At this stage, if Hezbollah is provoked in any way, even a small incident, it could give Hezbollah the justification and pretext to enter the conflict,” Saad-Ghorayeb said.  ABC News

From another Middle East country with Radical Islamists (in this case, next to a mosque in Cairo, Egypt):

A crowd of about 100 protesters, including women, managed to begin a small demo. People in this country are usually careful about what they say about the government in public but today their voices were loud and clear — “watch the terrorism in this country,” they said, referring to the Egyptian police. They were also chanting pro-Hamas slogans and saying, “With our blood, with our souls, we will avenge you Palestine.” But as soon as the demonstration started, riot police moved in and broke it up, arresting people and putting them in vans.  Lama Hasan, World View Blog, ABC News

From the Arab League, meeting in Cairo, Egypt:

One interesting point to note: Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal discussed the need for a Palestinian national unity government. He said that had such a government been in place, a “massacre” would not be taking place right now.

So will the meeting generate any change in Gaza? One of the journalists I spoke to said that it was unlikely. She remarked that it had taken the Arab League five days to finally meet since the strikes had started and after nearly 400 Palestinians had been killed.

The meeting therefore could be just a show for the people on Arab streets, to make them feel that their leaders are trying to do something about the situation when in reality nothing may come of it.  Lama Hasan, World View Blog, ABC News

Finally, from leaders in the European Union:

In Ramallah in the Palestinian-ruled West Bank, French President Sarkozy called for a ceasefire as soon as possible and said that “time is running against peace.”

“The guns must fall silent, there must be a humanitarian truce,” Sarkozy said.

He said he would tell Israeli leaders the violence must stop but he also condemned Hamas for its attacks on Israel.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, heading an EU peace mission, sounded more resigned to prolonged fighting.

“We do not have a specific plan for a ceasefire because the ceasefire as such must be concluded by the involved parties,” he said in Jerusalem.    ABC News/Reuters

There you have the rhetoric of a perfect war.  Tit-for-tat.  It will end, this conflict, that is.  But a perfect war is far too valuable to bring to a close, once and for all.  I invite you to read my previous post, “Abraham’s Lot”  (Click on the Recent Entries link to the right).  It is my commentary on why this 4000 year old war is perfect.  Except, of course, over the past 4000 years, for all those who have been killed by perfection.