Setting aside the limited nature of the actual cuts, conservative critics have raised some valid concerns about New START. Early statements from the Obama administration and Russian officials on the relevance of missile defense to New START were contradictory and confusing. The Kremlin issued a statement implying that further U.S. development of its missile defense systems "quantitatively or qualitatively" would be grounds for Russian withdrawal from the treaty. But the ratification resolution approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and subsequent statements by administration officials make clear that New START does not limit America's ability to deploy a robust missile defense system. Other important questions about possible limitations on U.S. plans to develop a conventional prompt global strike capability, which will be all the more important as the United States reduces its nuclear arsenal, also are addressed by the ratification resolution.
New START has been the centerpiece of the president's much vaunted "reset" with Russia. Now that the administration has overplayed its hand by making promises to the Russians about a ratification timeline that it cannot keep, it has undermined its credibility with Moscow. Republicans should rightly criticize the administration's willingness to forgo serious criticism of Russia's abysmal human rights record, its increased stifling of freedom of expression, and its continued occupation of Georgia (a future NATO ally), but in time, the "reset" will collapse whether or not New START is ratified.
There remains serious criticism of New START's merits on the right, and it is troubling that the administration is attempting to argue that Republicans such as Sen. Jon Kyl are interested only in killing the treaty. Kyl and a majority of his colleagues are just asking for more time to explore their concerns about the treaty and continue discussions with administration officials about funding levels for modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
From the rhetoric of the administration and its surrogates, one would believe that if New START is not ratified by the end of the year, nuclear weapons will suddenly fall into the hands of terrorists. Last week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry warned that a failure to ratify the treaty would mean that U.S. inspectors would continue to be unable to confirm the safety of Russia's nuclear stockpile, resulting in "no American boots on the ground in Russia able to protect American interests."
Kerry is correct to say that since the 1994 START agreement expired in December 2009, START inspections of Russian and U.S. nuclear sites have not occurred. But ironically, New START, unlike the agreement it replaces, would not have U.S. monitors at Russia's mobile missile-production facility at Votkinsk. If this was an overwhelming concern, the Obama administration and Russia could have agreed to continue inspections without a new treaty.