On the Ratification of an Arms Control Treaty

A long-time friend, though I hesitate to use the world since he went off the deep-end into wingnut batshittery, railed on Facebook today against the ratification by the United States Senate of the New START Treaty, an arms control treaty between the United States and Russia that continues the Reagan-era doctrine of “Trust, but verify” by empowering nuclear weapons inspectors and places a cap on the number of nuclear warheads that each side may possess, reducing both nations’ arsenals to 1,550 pieces over the next seven years.

My friend Jim posted a link to an editorial by Anthony Martin that claimed that President Obama and the Republican senators who voted to ratify the treaty would rue the day, because they’ve weakened the United States:

Not only is the treaty a highly questionable move given Russia’s distinct drift backwards toward the cold war tactics of the old Communist Soviet Union, but the U.S. is in real danger of being held hostage by rogue nations and groups that now have access to or actually possess nuclear weapons.

The danger of being hit by a nuke is greater now that it was at the height of the Cold War. Not only does Russia have nukes, but so does North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela, and any number of terrorist groups who deal in the nuclear weapons black market.

Any move at the present time to require a reduction in America’s nuclear capability is tantamount to a stark weakening of U.S. ability to adequately respond to a nuclear attack.

Martin has no understanding of nuclear strategy — or of proportionate and disproportionate responses.

New START compels the United States to reduce its nuclear arsenal to 1,550 pieces. Even if we were to reduce our nuclear arsenal to 500 warheads, that’s still going to be at least 498 more nuclear warheads than North Korea, Iran, and other rogue regimes are likely to have anytime in the next five years.

If North Korea detonated a nuclear device on or near Seoul or Tokyo, the United States would be able to retaliate disproportionately and reduce the country to radioactive mud. If Iran decided to lob a nuclear-tipped missile toward Europe, Iran would be reduced to radioactive glass shortly thereafter. North Korea and Iran, in these scenarios, would have exhausted a significant proportion of their nuclear arsenals, and we wouldn’t even break a sweat swatting them. Scratch the “Mutually” from the Cold War-era doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction.” Iran and North Korea would be guaranteeing their own annihilation if they ever did use their nuclear capabilities.

So, when Martin says that the START treaty will hold the United States hostage to rogue states, he has no conception of the threat posed by rogue states.

Also, he completely neglects the moral force that the United States gains by ratifying the treaty. Had we not ratified a nuclear arms control treaty, what lesson would that have sent other nations trying to acquire their own weapons? Ratifying the treaty tells the world that we are governed by the same laws and norms as other nations. It says that we play fair.

Republican intransigence on START was stupid. Teddy Roosevelt said “Walk softly, but carry a big stick,” and New START amounts to a big stick because it puts nuclear inspectors on the ground. Ronald Reagan said “Trust, but verify,” and defeating New START would have deprived the United States of its ability to verify that the Russian nuclear program was not passing technology and materials to rogue states like Iran and North Korea. These great Republicans would have been ashamed of Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Lindsay Graham and their decision to place personal political pique ahead of national security.

Fortunately, thirteen Republicans broke ranks with their leadership to vote to ratify the treaty.

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