Tuesday, July 6th, Americans nursing Independence Day hangovers will wake up to find in their morning paper a second reason to start the day with a headache: an outrageously stupid op-ed by Mitt Romney in the Washington Post.
Mr. Romney’s article is about the New START Treaty, what he calls President Obama’s “worst foreign-policy mistake yet.” The op-ed is a laundry list of neocon boilerplate, criticizing and rejecting the recently negotiated arms control agreement concluded by the White House and the Kremlin. “It must not be ratified,” Romney instructs the Senate, concluding with a zinger that I can only assume his 4-year-old daughter coined: “As currently drafted, New START is a non-starter.” Very good, Mitt. Now let’s have a look at what the hell you’re talking about.
Here’s a summary of the long-ago-discredited baloney Mr. Romney peddles in his article: the treaty “impedes” and “jeopardizes” U.S. missile defense; it “abandons” our Eastern European allies; it allows Russia a bombers-advantage; it reduces the U.S. to Russian nuke levels unnecessarily; it allows too many MIRVs (multiple independently–targetable Reentry Vehicles); it doesn’t cover rail-based ICBM launchers; it exposes Europe to Russia’s tactical nukes; and it limits Prompt Global Strike.
Let’s examine these claims in sequence:
The missile defense hysteria stems from the non-binding preamble language of New START, wherein Russia affirms its right to leave the treaty, should it find its strategic security altered by American missile defense development. This kind of announcement is entirely ordinary for a treaty (START I also contained unilateral statements about how each side interpreted the interrelationship between offensive and defensive weapons — a fact of life, no matter how hard Republicans wish to deny it). Even if the preamble didn’t contain this text, any reasonable person should naturally assume that Russia would leave the treaty once it perceived it to be a liability. Romney seems to think Russia shouldn’t have “the right to walk away from the treaty.” What the hell kind of treaty doesn’t include the right to walk away?
Without going into details, Romney also attacks the treaty for its counting procedures on bombers. This I imagine is a reaction to the news over the last few years about Russia renewing long-range bomber patrols of its borders — something the United States never stopped doing. Never mind that Russian development of a “new heavy bomber” seeks to bring Russian aircraft to a standard the U.S. reached twenty years ago. Forget that the bombers-counting clause is a two-way loophole that also allows America to field extra nukes, if it wants to. The really ridiculous “counting” complaint raised by Mitt Romney concerns rail-based ICBM launchers and multiple warhead missiles. Here’s what Pavel Podvig of Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces demonstrates about New START and rail-ICBMs:
Article II of the treaty limits all launchers, deployed and non-deployed, and does not care whether they are mobile or not:
[II.1] (c) 800, for deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, deployed and non-deployed SLBM launchers, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers
As for the definition of an “ICBM launcher”, the Protocol is very clear:
28. (56.) The term “ICBM launcher” means a device intended or used to contain, prepare for launch, and launch an ICBM.
There is nothing self-propelled here, so any rail-mobile launcher is an ICBM launcher and therefore would definitely be “caught” by the treaty limit of 800 non-deployed launchers. Note that the definition does not require the launcher to be actually used for a launch — it is enough that it is intended to be used in that role.
The worries about MIRVs are similarly idiotic, given America’s overwhelming advantage in warhead capacity. See the chart below, put together by Hans Kristensen at the Federation of American Scientists, displaying how under-loaded America’s launcher arsenal really is:
Clearly, any new efforts by Russia to expand MIRV capacity (aimed primarily at balancing the inevitable deterioration of Russia’s nuclear forces) will be entirely unable to threaten the U.S. with some kind of warheads-launching superiority.
Romney goes on to criticize the Administration for failing to negotiate limits on tactical nuclear weapons. This is a cheap shot. Anyone with a basic understanding of U.S.-Russian arms control negotiations knows that such an agreement would require a separate treaty. When George W. Bush completed the SORT Agreement, his team didn’t even bother with the issue, knowing full well that there was no time to address both strategic and tactical arms. If New START is ratified in a timely manner, it’s still possible that the U.S. and Russia might hammer out a second treaty, this time on tactical nukes. Indeed, that’s probably the last remaining un-negotiated bilateral treaty left for Moscow and Washington to explore. If Mitt Romney gets his wish and the Senate rejects New START, any agreement on tactical nuclear weapons — something he seems to firmly believe imperials all of Europe — will be impossible.
Romney’s nod to Prompt Global Strike, a still-unfunded fantastical scheme to convert nuclear Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles to conventional payloads, is similar to all the fury surrounding missile defense: carried-away, American nationalist dreaming of George-Lucas-invented destruction powers. Despite the wildly irresponsible mentality behind prompt global strike (it’s rather difficult to distinguish, from a detection point of view, the launch of a conventional ICBM versus a nuclear-tipped ICBM), the New START treaty actually permits the U.S. to go crazy with this conversion idea. With a delivery vehicle limit of 800, the Pentagon could safely convert dozens of nuclear missiles to conventional warheads, and still maintain a more-than-effective radioactive deterrent. Additionally, B-1 bombers and four Trident I submarines (already converted to conventional-only roles) will not count as part of that 800 limit.
One of the basic claims Romney raises, a complaint that nearly every neocon and hawk never fails to voice when granted the opportunity to bitch and moan about arms control, is that America is “lowering itself” to Russian delivery vehicle levels unnecessarily, since Russia’s arsenal is naturally shrinking, as a result of de-Sovietization and a massively smaller military budget. “Why waste the chance,” goes the logic, “to build a super-advantage?!” There are a number of moronic presuppositions built into this line of thinking, but a fundamental mistake, it seems to me, is the belief that Russia will absolutely allow its nuclear deterrent to shrink to certain levels without American reciprocity. Americans all too often assume that nobody could ever find their military posture to be threatening. “If they feel threatened,” policy-makers apparently think, “then they’re somebody we should seek to confront.” Suffice it to say that it’s not unimaginable that the Kremlin would decide to reinvest in nuclear arms, should the United States back out of New START and redouble its efforts to build a missile shield (plus radar-monitoring stations) along Russia’s borders.
I assume an op-ed like this is Mitt Romney’s way of “staying relevant.” Odds are that he’ll take another stab at the presidency, and it’s important to remind the people that he’s still out there, speaking truth to power, and standing up to Big Bad Barack. That he’s decided to pivot his latest political stunt on opposition to New START is depressing but not unexpected. An op-ed like Romney’s this morning is possible only because most Americans can’t take the time to study the fine print of an elaborate document like the New START treaty. Anyone familiar with the issues and challenges associated with the agreement, however, will instantly recognize that Mitt Romney is a fool — either a genuine idiot or a man parroting stupidities for political gain. Here’s hoping we’re looking at the end of his 2012 presidential run, and not the ‘start.’