On the third anniversary of the signing of New START, the Obama administration's strategic arms agreement with Russia, Secretary of State John Kerry published the administration's best case for the success of the treaty, titled "Time to Face Facts." In it, he urges us to "relentlessly" follow the facts about the treaty. We agree, but by doing so, we are led to very different conclusions from his about the treaty's purported accomplishments. And with Kerry in Moscow this week, reportedly to discuss, among other issues, following up on National Security Advisor Tom Donilon's discussions with Russian officials about pursuing additional reductions in nuclear force, the stakes couldn't be higher.
Let's begin with the basic purpose of strategic arms reductions agreements: to reduce the nuclear arsenals of the parties and strengthen U.S. national security. While praising the treaty as working "exactly as advertised," Kerry fails to mention anything about actual cuts in nuclear forces, in stark contrast with his comments prior to ratification, when, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he repeatedly emphasized White House talking points that the agreement would reduce the maximum number of strategically deployed U.S. and Russian nuclear forces by one-third. Those of us who testified that this was simply false -- because of the bomber-counting rule and the fact that the treaty would require cuts in U.S. forces only -- were either ignored or derided. Our assessments of the treaty as unilateral disarmament in the guise of a two-party agreement were summarily rejected.
So what are the facts? In the initial New START data exchange, Moscow announced that it was already well below the new limits on deployed delivery vehicles set by the treaty. This should have come as no surprise. The Russian defense minister at the time, Anatoly Serdyukov, had earlier told the Duma, "We will not have to make any cuts to our strategic offensive weapons" because Russia's strategic nuclear weapons were already under the treaty limits for both warheads and launchers. Contradicting statements by Kerry and Obama, Serdyukov announced that Russia intended to build up to the treaty limits.
In other words, New START provided Moscow an incentive to go up, not down, in strategic nuclear arms. As for the United States, New START will reduce the number of deployed delivery vehicles by about one-fourth. Given these facts, it is perhaps understandable why the new secretary of state chose to say nothing about nuclear reductions, which was, after all, the treaty's ostensible objective. The one-sided nature of the actual reductions certainly looks more like unilateral disarmament than mutual, bilateral reductions.
While ignoring the facts on nuclear reductions, Kerry praises the treaty on two grounds. First, he declares that, because U.S. and Russian inspection teams have conducted multiple on-site visits, the "verification regime works." This assertion -- that "boots back on the ground" equals effective verification -- was a principal argument of treaty supporters.