Dimitri K. Simes and Dov S. Zakheim: Don't Rush START

Roundup: Media's Take

[Dimitri K. Simes is the president of The Nixon Center and publisher of The National Interest. Dov S. Zakheim was undersecretary of defense in the George W. Bush administration and is a member of The Nixon Center Board. The views expressed herein are entirely their own.]

Senator John Kerry is absolutely right that “even in these polarized times,” responsible statesmen “should know that the security of the United States is too important to treat it as fodder for political posturing.” Yet, while accusing his Republican opponents, and particularly Governor Mitt Romney, of playing politics with the New START treaty, Senator Kerry is doing exactly the same himself. There is no security justification for Senator Kerry’s attempt to rush ratification without serious consideration of the important issues raised by Senator Jon Kyl and his Republican colleagues. And when Mr. Kerry claims that every day without “treaties” ensuring verification is a day without a clear view of Russia’s nuclear arsenals, he grossly overstates the pitfalls of giving the Senate more time to evaluate how the agreement affects the United States.

The New START treaty is an important agreement with an important country on an important issue with important consequences. Having a sense of responsibility suggests avoiding exaggerated claims of both the advantages and the dangers the treaty may produce. The Cold War is no more; arms-control agreements with Russia are not about avoiding nuclear holocaust. There are other issues of cooperation between Moscow and Washington at stake, including Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear problem, and trade and investment. At least some of these have greater significance to both nations than arms-control treaties reminiscent of a past nuclear rivalry. Maybe all of them do.

The New START treaty basically allows both sides to have the strategic forces they want anyway. The Russian nuclear arsenal is shrinking; Moscow would not have more nuclear weapons in the absence of the treaty. Still, the agreement does increase predictability, and its verification procedures, while inferior to some previous agreements, are better than nothing. But as the administration acknowledged itself, America already has the means to monitor Russia’s nuclear forces and to respond to any unexpected changes.

The best argument for ratifying the New START treaty is that once it has been signed by the two governments and presented to the international community with great fanfare, rejecting it would create a rupture in the U.S.-Russia relationship when we need Moscow’s cooperation on other important issues, starting with tightening sanctions against Iran.

Yet, contrary to the claims of its enthusiastic proponents, the treaty does not reduce the danger of nuclear war between America and Russia...

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