Argument

Russian Roulette

Obama's plan for nuclear reductions is letting Moscow get away with murder.

When Winston Churchill became prime minister at Britain's point of greatest peril, one commentator observed, "the hour has arrived, and the man is here." The danger to freedom in 1940 emanated from Berlin, site of the iconic Brandenburg Gate. When President John F. Kennedy came to a Berlin divided by the Cold War in 1963 to proclaim America's continuing defense of freedom against Soviet threats, his venue was universally understood. And when President Ronald Reagan came to the Brandenburg Gate in 1987 to say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," no one missed the symbolism.

For both Kennedy and Reagan, one could easily say that their hour had also arrived, and that they were prepared for the challenges they faced protecting the Free World. But President Barack Obama's June 19 speech at the Brandenburg Gate was not in the same league. Obama's use of the phrase "peace with justice" was clearly intended as a contrast to Reagan's "peace through strength" doctrine, but it simply highlights the president's inadequacies. Reagan (and Kennedy, who coined "peace with justice") stood squarely against Moscow, refused to be intimidated, and demanded that the Soviets reverse their aggressive policies.

Reagan repeatedly insisted that bilateral arms-control agreements must actually enhance U.S. national security and contain effective verification mechanisms, and he refused to tolerate Russian violations. By contrast, Obama argued last week for further reductions of deployed U.S. nuclear weapons of up to one-third below the ill-advised New START agreement's already dangerously low levels. The Senate should have rejected New START, and it seems highly unlikely that senators already disillusioned by Obama's failure to honor his commitments to maintain the reliability and security of the nuclear stockpile will fall once again for glib promises.

Obama's motivation for further substantial reductions is the ideological belief that lower levels of U.S. nuclear weapons will make a safer world. His philosophy is thus the polar opposite of Reagan's -- one more appropriately labeled "peace through weakness," a doctrine Churchill emphatically rejected in his time.

But beyond the policy arguments and historical evidence already under intense debate, Obama's decision to seek further reductions flatly ignores reported Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The INF prohibits both the United States and Russia (but only these two powers) from developing, testing, or possessing ballistic or cruise missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (intermediate range ballistic missiles, or IRBM's). Russia may well be taking steps to mask its INF violations, pretending, for example, that all their new missiles are longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM's), which are not prohibited under any existing agreement. It may sound bizarre that shorter-range missiles are banned while longer-range missiles are not, but that is symptomatic of the upside-down world of arms control.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which included a provision based on classified and unclassified information concerning significant Russian arms-control violations. The House bill urged Obama to demand Moscow stop its violations, and sought the president's commitment against further reductions in the U.S. nuclear deterrent until "this Russian behavior is corrected." Responding to Obama's speech, House Armed Service Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said: "The President's desire to negotiate a new round of arms control with the Russians, while Russia is cheating on a major existing nuclear arms control treaty, strains credulity." Instead, Obama threatened to veto the authorization bill if it contained the language about Russian treaty violations.

While neither Congress nor the administration have publicly identified Moscow's violations, Russian statements and press reports give strong indications of two of them. First, Russia is developing and testing, and may be ready to deploy, the R-500 cruise missile, which appears to violate the INF Treaty. Based on Russian official and unofficial statements going back to 2007, the R-500 cruise missile falls within the INF's prohibited range.

Second, on June 6, Moscow announced another flight test of the new "Rubezh" ICBM from a mobile launcher, the fourth since testing began in Sept. 2011. All these successful flight tests were within the INF-prohibited range, thereby expanding Russia's ability to threaten Europe, even with missile defenses, which is precisely what INF was intended to prevent.

The Obama administration's failures to report these likely violations form a pattern of willful blindness. Further evidence of Russia's dangerous intentions lies in its rejection of basic elements of the 20-year-old Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program (often known as "Nunn-Lugar" after its authors). CTR provided billions of dollars of U.S. assistance for eliminating Soviet-era missile, nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. Under the program's new umbrella agreement, effective this month, Russia clearly rejected the central element of transparency that allowed U.S. access to its weapons sites. When Moscow needed aid to destroy weapons it no longer wanted, it accepted transparency. Now Moscow stills wants the aid, but transparency is out, which tells us all we need to know.

Russia's apparent INF violations as well as continuing violations of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, among others, demonstrate its disregard for treaty commitments. Even today, well after the Cold War, Russia still repeatedly threatens to use nuclear weapons to defeat U.S. and European missile defenses and to develop and deploy new systems to do so. Yet despite Russia's circumvention and violation of existing treaties -- and efforts at intimidation -- President Obama sees no stumbling blocks to new agreements, or even unilateral U.S. reductions. Moreover, the White House responds to Russian programs and threats to overwhelm our missile-defense systems in a nuclear attack with offers to share classified technical data about these systems that would enhance Russia's ability to defeat them.

While Russia's belligerent nuclear rhetoric and policies are outrageous, it is even worse that the Obama administration is blissfully determined to further weaken our own nuclear deterrent and missile defenses in an effort to placate Moscow. There needs to be a reckoning about the pervasive history of material Russian violations of major arms-control agreements. And the time for that reckoning is well before any serious negotiations begin on any new agreement, and certainly well before congressional consideration of the implications of any agreement that might result.

MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images

National Security

Star Trek Into Dumbness

The clumsy politics of Captain Kirk's latest adventure.

Subtlety is a dish best served cold, as the Klingons would say if they had a word for subtlety. But there is nothing subtle about the 9/11 allegories in Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest Trek movie to hit the silver screen. Wars of choice, militaristic leaders, drone strikes, targeted assassinations -- the analogies could not have been more obvious if Donald Rumsfeld had been cast as the chief villain.

Given Star Trek's track record, it was inevitable that Captain James Tiberius Kirk would boldly go into a storyline based on the Global War on Terror. In the 50 years since the original series debuted in 1966, Star Trek has carved a niche in the cultural pantheon by delving into the political and social questions of the day. In the 1960s, Trek tackled the Cold War, the threat of thermonuclear Armageddon, Vietnam, discontented youth, and racism in America.

Like 2009's Star Trek -- the first film with the current cast -- Into Darkness features Kirk leading an Enterprise crew that looks too young to order Romulan ale and behaves like their parents need to take away the keys to their starship. The premise is that London has been blown up by Khan Noonien Singh, a revamped version of one of the original series' iconic villains, who has been awakened out of cryogenic stasis by a rogue, militaristic Federation admiral determined to use his genetically engineered super-intelligence to design superweapons and thus protect the Federation from potential alien threats. But Khan also goes rogue, and Kirk and the Brat Pack Enterprise are sent to kill the fugitive in his hideout on the Klingon homeworld.

What ensues is an action-packed, special effects bonanza with so many plot holes that the script must have been hit by a salvo of photon torpedoes and political allegories that multiply like tribbles in heat. We have blowback in the form of Khan, who like the Taliban and their one-time American sponsors, turns on his would-be benefactor. We have targeted assassination in the form of photon torpedoes that work like wingless Predator drones, even if they look like giant cough drops. There is preventative war in the form of the bellicose Adm. Alexander Marcus, who appears to have been genetically engineered from the DNA of Dick Cheney and Curtis LeMay. Naturally, the rogue admiral's space dreadnought is crewed by private contractors. The only touch the scriptwriters missed was not having the contractors wear Blackwater logos on their uniforms.

As for Khan, he has been reimagined in a way that would make his original portrayer, Ricardo Montalban, turn over in his Corinthian-leather grave. Bad enough that the Sikh superman is now played by a blue-eyed British actor named Benedict Cumberbatch, who talks like Masterpiece Theater and looks about as Southwest Asian as Salina the Viking Queen. Montalban's original Khan was arrogant and ruthless, but he had an urbane charm and the wounded dignity of a talented man who could not accept anything less than absolute success ("Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven"). Even if he didn't win affection, he commanded respect. However, the new Khan has no charm. He is pure arrogance, coldness, and efficiency, like a Wall Street financier catapulted into the future in search of new conquests.

The tragedy of the new Trek is that it eagerly embraces the form but not the substance of Star Trek. The ranks of failed science-fiction shows are legion, but one reason that Star Trek is still around after a half-century is that it was comfortable with a certain level of moral complexity. At one point or another, the Klingons, Romulans, rogue starship captains, and other baddies are given a chance to explain their actions. And our heroes were sometimes forced by circumstances to bend the law and morality.

In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the darkest and best of the post-1960s shows, the characters in the classic episode "In the Pale Moonlight" engage in assassination, sabotage, murder, and other actions that should send them to a prison planet for life. But the context is that there is a desperate war between the Federation and the ruthless Dominion Empire, and the question of whether the ends justify the means is portrayed as a difficult one.

There is no such nuance in Into Darkness. The evil Federation admiral gets a couple of throwaway lines to mumble about preparing for threats "out there." Scotty laments that he thought Starfleet was meant for exploration rather than war (evidently the Enterprise's chief engineer didn't know he carried phasers). Yet there are also references to aggressive Klingon attacks on the Federation, and the masked, armored Klingons that Kirk encounters on Kronos don't look like advocates of peaceful coexistence. The message of the movie is that we are the terrorists, and terrorism is what we bring upon ourselves. But it doesn't address the other side of the issue, which is that maybe a little paranoia is warranted when the Klingon Empire is your neighbor. 

Perhaps we should be so lucky as to have a bunch of crazy generals running the Pentagon, CIA, and NSA, for then we could dismiss them as mere nuts. But the dilemma we face is that our government says it needs to monitor our phone calls and make us take off our shoes at airports for our own good. Many of us don't want to them to do this, but nor do we want to be blown up by terrorists.

What is the proper balance between security versus freedom? Perhaps not even a supergenius on the level of Khan Noonien Singh could come up with the answer.

Paramount Pictures