One very important subject that has received modest attention in recent days is the nation's nuclear weapons policy. I will try to present some perspective on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia which President Obama would like to have approved by the lame duck Senate.
- Presidents Nixon, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush all negotiated successful nuclear arms reduction treaties with the Russians (nee Soviets) to reduce strategic nuclear armaments by some two thirds from their peak to today's levels. The new treaty cuts the total by 30% and sets limits of 1550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads each on land, air, and sea launchers - a figure that all military testimony agrees is adequate. With some caveats it has the support of the last six Republican Secretaries of State as well as the usual New York Times crowd and opposition of groups such as the Heritage Foundation.
- Senator Kyle, the Republicans' leader on the subject (and the party's Whip) is satisfied with the verification procedures and has extracted $84 billion over 10 years to upgrade our nuclear stockpile. (I am reminded of President Eisenhower's warning about the need to keep feeding the military industrial complex, and the fact that after the Soviet collapse we spent millions to subsidize work for their nuclear scientists so that they would not seek other employers.)
- There is one important caveat. Since 1972 all agreements have separated discussions of offensive weapons from defensive weapons. The Russians have wanted to link defensive and offensive systems since President Reagan's "Star Wars" initiative propelled the American advantage in defensive technology which the Russians have been unable to afford. (Logically, if the other guy has a better defense, you probably do need more offense.) In the main body of Obama's START agreement they remain uncoupled; however, the preamble recognizes an "interrelationship." The Republicans would like more time to review the inconsistencies between Russian President Medvedev's interpretation that they are linked and president Obama's that they are not. Particularly, there are a number of briefing papers and diplomatic communications that need to be reviewed and a clear statement from the president before the Senate's "Advice and Consent".
- The broader perspective is that this is the last century's discussion and todays focus needs to be on preventing proliferation (Iran; North Korea), developing a joint defensive shield that would protect against a rogue state, and limiting the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons (where the Russians have greater numbers) - all things that the Russians are interested in discussing. In the background our East European allies seem to be more interested in these subjects and Belarus, one of two Soviet republics outside of Russia with a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, has committed to give it up by 2012. Progress indeed.
- Meanwhile the pundits have their day - George Will talks about the irrelevance of the current Russia and the Senate's constitutional role while others talk about Obama's lack of negotiating skills, linking the treaty to concessions on other legislation, and the importance of getting it approved before more Republicans arrive. I agree with Condi Rice, the sooner the better.
This week's video is a sobering trailer by former Senator Sam Nunn's Nuclear Threat Initiative, the premier private organization devoted to reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism. My novel, The Target, is intended to be part of this conversation, demonstrating the universality of the problem.
And a comment on comments. We are having some excellent discussions; I would encourage readers to look at the comments from the prior week. I respond when I think it would be appropriate. For those posting comments, the site is sometimes too time sensitive - I would recommend writing the comment in word and then pasting it into the blog's comments box. Thanks for your active interest.