John Castellaw: Listen to the military leadership on START
President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently signed the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START), a measure designed to mutually and verifiably reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. Specifically, it would reduce U.S. and Russian warheads by approximately one third and would continue and strengthen the verification regime that has allowed the inspections and surveillance that have informed U.S. intelligence about Russian nuclear forces for decades.
The treaty is now before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and may come before the full Senate for a vote on ratification this summer.
Over the last several months, America’s military leaders and national security experts—from both Republican and Democratic administrations—have testified before Senate committees, all with the same message: the treaty’s modest mutual reductions and strengthened verification regime improve our national security, and the Senate should ratify the treaty.
On the benefits afforded by the treaty, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was clear: “Through the trust it engenders, the cuts it requires, and the flexibility it preserves, this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we have been charged to do: protect and defend the citizens of the United States.”
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made it clear that Admiral Mullen was not alone: “The New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America’s military leadership,” he wrote.
Testimony in favor of the treaty has also come from former Secretaries of Defense James Schlesinger and William Perry, former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger and former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley.
In fact, 30 high-level national security experts from across the political spectrum – including Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Frank Carlucci, Chuck Hagel and John Danforth – published an open letter in support of the treaty.
One of the most compelling reasons for ratifying the treaty is the enormous risk involved in failing to do so. Rejection of this treaty would amount to voluntarily giving up our decades-old capacity to keep tabs on the Russian arsenal.
As General Kevin Chilton, STRATCOM commander, testified, “If we don’t get the treaty, [the Russians] are not constrained in their development of force structure and … we have no insight into what they’re doing. So it’s the worst of both possible worlds.”
Some who oppose the treaty have repeatedly raised concerns that the treaty somehow limits U.S. missile defense capabilities. Again and again, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and others have assured Senators that those concerns are unfounded and that the treaty does not limit missile defense.
Director of the Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, was even more emphatic, stating that, “Relative to the recently expired START Treaty, the New START Treaty actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program.”
Despite the remarkable bipartisan consensus in support of the treaty, its fate in the Senate is hardly assured.
Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee may well set the tone in determining whether the bipartisan support the treaty enjoys among the military leadership and national security experts is reflected in the Senate. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., Ranking member of the committee, has announced his support for the treaty and called for its prompt ratification. Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., have announced their opposition. Those undecided are Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., James Risch, R-Idaho, John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
The importance of the treaty demands a statesmanlike approach to this debate. As the vote approaches, the pressure to politicize the issue will increase. But this is an issue that should be above politics. The expert consensus is clear, and those who would disregard the facts and the advice of our nation’s military leadership in an attempt to make political hay do so at the risk of our national security.
The undecided members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee deserve recognition for the seriousness with which they have approached this debate. Having weighed the issue, let us hope they, along with the rest of the Senate, decide to stand with our nation’s military leadership and the combined experience of security experts from Republican and Democratic administrations alike when it comes time to vote.
As Secretary Gates noted, “For nearly 40 years, treaties to limit or reduce nuclear weapons have been approved by the U.S. Senate by strong bipartisan majorities. This treaty deserves a similar reception and result – on account of the dangerous weapons it reduces, the critical defense capabilities it preserves, the strategic stability it maintains, and, above all, the security it provides to the American people.”
John Castellaw is a 36-year retired U.S. Marine Corps general, now living on his family farm in Crockett County, Tenn.