National Security

Time to Face Facts

Three years in, New START has performed exactly as advertised.

Three years ago today -- April 8, 2010 -- President Obama and then-President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START agreement to reduce American and Russian deployed strategic nuclear forces to their lowest levels since the days when Dwight Eisenhower was president and the Cold War defined our relationship with the Russians.

That December in the Senate, we clawed our way to ratification with 71 votes, a big bipartisan statement that the arms control and nonproliferation consensus could hold together even in a polarized political culture. That statement was reaffirmed by treaty supporters from Henry Kissinger and James Baker -- and every other living secretary of state -- to President George Herbert Walker Bush.

Still, when I noted that far more ambitious treaties had previously been approved by votes of 90 or 95 to zero, a colleague of mine wondered whether in this hyper-partisan Washington, 71 might be the new 95.

I'm proud that in the end we sent a signal to the world that in American foreign policy, however uphill the slog and improbable the victory, partisan politics can still stop at the water's edge.

But I'd like to see our country get back to the days of near unanimity on these vital issues -- because the commitment to nonproliferation and arms control that began under Presidents Nixon and Reagan should continue well into the future.

How do we do that?

We start by relentlessly following the facts, and the facts are that through the last two-plus years since the treaty entered into force, despite any of the alarm bells treaty foes may have rung, the treaty is working -- exactly as advertised.

Follow the facts.

We and the Russians both have "boots back on the ground" -- inspectors who monitor the inner workings of our respective strategic forces. 

New START is maintaining stability and predictability between the world's largest nuclear powers, as we promised.

So far, the United States and Russia have completed 78 on-site inspections. On top of that, we have exchanged over 4,000 notifications on the numbers, locations, and movements of our strategic forces.

On a day-in, day-out basis, we have a real-time picture of what is going on with the Russians' strategic forces, and they have the same with ours.

The inspection teams are thus steadily confirming that the treaty's verification regime works. Accurate and timely knowledge of each other's nuclear forces dampens the risks of misunderstanding, mistrust, and worst-case analysis and decision-making. Such mutual confidence and predictability are crucial to international stability.

Looking ahead, the administration is going to continue to advance nuclear security policies in ways that meet both the challenges of the world in which we now live, as well as those on the horizon. We know that the traditional concept of nuclear deterrence -- the idea that a country would not initiate a nuclear war for fear of nuclear retaliation -- does not apply to terrorists. We know that our greatest nuclear threat is no longer a large-scale nuclear exchange, but the danger that terrorists could acquire nuclear materials or, worse, a nuclear weapon.  

That is why concerted action by the United States and Russia -- and indeed, by all nuclear-weapon states -- to reduce their arsenals is important. These reductions go hand in hand with our efforts to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime, hold Iran and North Korea to account, and secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world against terrorist theft. All of these steps contribute to countering the paramount threat of nuclear terrorism.

As we move forward, Washington and Moscow have a particular responsibility to set an example for the world, because we still deploy over 90 percent of the nuclear weapons on our planet.

When signing New START three years ago in Prague, President Obama made it clear he intended to seek further reductions in all types of nuclear weapons: strategic and nonstrategic, deployed and non-deployed.  

We will follow through on this goal in a deliberate, step-by step manner, proactively consulting with Capitol Hill, talking with our allies and engaging Russia on future negotiations. To be clear: reducing nuclear weapons is not an end in and of itself, but a means toward creating a safer and more stable world. We'll only make reductions that are in our national security interest, and that of our allies.

But make no mistake on this anniversary of its signing: New START was neither the first step nor the last, but a vital step that moves us forward.

In a dangerous and volatile world, those are the facts, and as we confront threats far and wide, from the DMZ to Tehran, it is through facts that we need to rebuild consensus -- and do what we must to keep America safe.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Argument

Point of Order

The problem with Congress's idea to base immigration on economic merit.

As the U.S. Congress barrels ahead on immigration reform, Canada and Australia have emerged as favorite prototypes. The so-called Gang of Eight in the Senate may end up proposing the United States take inspiration from those countries' merit-based systems, which evaluate would-be migrants by their potential to contribute to the economy. That strategy has also found favor with conservatives like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), both of whom sit on the House Judiciary Committee, which will weigh in heavily on the final bill.

It's not hard to see why the points system is having its moment. Broadly speaking, it culls skilled workers through a selection process that allocates -- you guessed it -- points for attributes like higher education, language ability, and youth (under 40 is preferred, because those applicants have a long work life ahead of them). That means -- on paper at least -- that immigrants will be poised from arrival to make economic contributions to their new country. Our current approach -- which allocates the vast majority of visas for family reunification, and a smaller number for employment or humanitarian reasons --  doesn't seem to hold the same promise of promoting our global competitiveness.

Before we embark on the Canadian and Australian way, however, it's worth remembering that the best immigration systems reflect a country's geography, system of governance, and societal contract. Points systems work best when governments react nimbly to events on the ground. That's because the government is in the business of picking migrants; if the selection criterion isn't capturing people who are prepared to compete in the U.S. job market, the process has to be tweaked. The U.S. Congress, though, doesn't have a track record of being proactive on immigration: the last time it passed significant legislation on the topic was in 1990.

Moreover, even if the United States builds a points system that has a mechanism for assuring consistent reevaluation of the selection process, it doesn't mean we will be able to replicate the Canadian or Australian experience. We are more dependent on low-skilled labor than either of those countries, and our geography does not allow the same kind of control over migration that Australia or Canada can exercise. 

Neither Canada nor Australia shares a border with a developing country. In addition, both nations have parliamentary systems. That style of governance gives ruling parties strong leverage in implementing their policy agenda, which is a boon in running an immigration system that needs constant tending. Both governments regularly make changes to their selection criterion: Last year, Canada began allocating more points for youth and less for overseas work experience while in 2010 Australia placed more emphasis on work experience. If we were to adopt a points system, we would need to create an independent board -- possibly something along the lines of the United Kingdom's Migration Advisory Committee -- to ensure we can also respond to changes in our job market. Our system of government is simply too slow-moving to expect legislative changes to occur consistently enough to keep our selection criteria up-to-date.

Even with regular updating, points systems can't determine with certainty who will thrive in a new country. Migrants with master's degrees can find their foreign diplomas don't carry much weight abroad. A points system also can't calibrate "soft" skills, like how a person might come across in an interview. Finally, points systems often miss market signals: it's challenging for governments to stay on top of fluctuations in the job market, so they select people who end up unemployed or underemployed. Intriguingly -- in part because of stories of engineers driving cabs -- both Canada and Australia have made their systems more like our system by allocating points to migrants who have already been offered jobs. If we go the points route, we should keep that part of our approach.

Designing a points system that doesn't operate on autopilot and acknowledges the drawbacks of having the government conduct the selection process would increase the chances it could operate effectively in the States. But a merit-based system that makes it difficult for the unskilled to qualify could end up being a poor fit. For one thing, we are dependent on low-skill labor in a way that Australia in particular is not. As one Australian government official put it to me, "We have a tradition of cleaning our own gutters." That can be traced in part to its culture and history, but also the fact that lower-skill jobs actually pay something there: The country's minimum wage is more than twice ours and the country has a generous social safety net. The United States provides little in the way of social support, and its minimum wage is among the lowest of the OECD countries. As anyone who has visited a restaurant, a construction site, or a suburban home can vouch, we look to immigrants to do everything from bus tables to stir cement to watch children. And as the baby boomers age, we will increasingly need foreign labor for elderly care.

There is, reportedly, going to be a so-called W visa to allow some low-skilled migrants to fill those positions legally. Even with that addition to our immigration code, we shouldn't expect illegal low-skilled immigration to simply disappear. While the numbers coming from Mexico have dropped, migration continues unabated from Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras. And the numbers will climb if our economy makes a solid recovery.

Some U.S. lawmakers might hope to replicate Canada's and Australia's immigration systems, but we can't replicate their immigration populations. We are not an island nation, nor is our sole border shared with the wealthiest economy on earth. And that means we will never have the same level of control over who lives here.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images