Missile defense is often the currency of conflict and compromise these days among international adversaries. But in the current U.S. Senate, missile defense is being used by Republicans in an attempt to deny the Obama administration a national security imperative. In this case it’s the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by President Obama and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in April.
NewSTART and U.S./Russian relations
Missile defense as it relates to the NewSTART treaty, which had bipartisan support until this week, is being used by certain Republicans as an opportunity for political posturing. The NewSTART treaty is seen as a critical element in the Obama administration’s efforts to improve national security and U.S./Russia relations. The ratification of the NewSTART treaty by the Senate is so important that such incidents as last summer’s Russian spy scandal and this week’s extradition of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the U.S. have had no ill effects on U.S./Russia relations. But this week, veteran Arizona Republican senator Jon Kyl and 10 freshly elected GOP senators are trying to get the vote delayed until next year, when Democrats lose six senate seats.
GOP wants to START over
The NewSTART treaty reduces U.S. and Russian arsenals of strategic nuclear missiles and resumes on-the-ground inspections that ended when the old START treaty expired in 2009. Kyl and his new acolytes are saying that the Senate needs to start over because more money is needed for modernizing the arsenal that remains after the reductions. Ironically, that point was brought up earlier, and in response the administration added $4.1 billion for such a purpose. Other conservatives say that the language of the treaty is so broadly defined that it will restrict U.S. missile defense options.
What NewSTART really says
In fact, the NewSTART treaty contains no provisions limiting the number of missile defense systems the U.S. can build. It also doesn’t require the U.S. to cut any already existing systems. Military Defense Agency chief General Patrick O’Reilly, in a statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April, said the NewSTART treaty actually reduces restraints on missile defense. It removes limits imposed by the old START treaty on U.S. testing of missiles designed to take out incoming missiles.