Consensus is clear: Ratify New START now

September 10, 2010

USA Today

10 Sept 2010

By Dirk Jameson

As the former commander of the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force, I was personally responsible for making sure that the hundreds of land-based missiles, each carrying as many as 10 warheads, stayed on alert and ready to launch against targets halfway around the world at a moment’s notice, if deterrence failed.

Working at the sharp end of the nuclear spear taught me to respect the skill and wisdom needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation. It made me a strong believer in the kind of tough, pragmatic arms control diplomacy that President Reagan practiced to reach the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia   in l981, when he said we should “trust, but verify.” For a military commander, arms control aggressively negotiated and constantly verified is just smart security.

Unfortunately, we now risk turning our backs on Reagan ‘s warning.

It has been more than 250 days and counting since the U.S. lost access to the critical intelligence we get from on-site inspections of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. In fact, these critical verification procedures will cease altogether unless the Senate acts to ratify the New START Treaty. Without prompt Senate action, American national security will be at risk.

What New START does

The treaty, which was signed in April of this year, will assure stability and predictability between the world’s two leading nuclear powers, including strict verification measures that permit U.S. inspectors on the ground to monitor Russia’s nuclear forces. Its importance to our national security has prompted seven former commanders of United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM), the entity in charge of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, to call for the treaty’s immediate ratification.

There are few more credible authorities than the nuclear commanders, but they are far from alone in supporting the treaty’s prompt approval without delay. Defense Secretary Robert Gates  assured the Senate that the treaty has the “unanimous support of America’s military leadership.”

Senate committees heard testimony in support of the treaty from officials who served in six successive Republican and Democratic  administrations, including 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.

Thirty former national security officials from both political parties — including Colin Powel and Chuck Hagel  — recently published an open letter in support of the treaty because they recognize that without it there are no constraints on Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal, leaving us to guess about the activities and security at their nuclear facilities. As the current Commander of STRATCOM, Gen. Kevin Chilton, warned in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “If we don’t get the (START) treaty, (the Russians) are not constrained in their development force structure and … we have no insight in what they’re doing. So it’s the worst of both possible worlds.”

Easier, and less costly defense

While some critics like to suggest that the treaty somehow limits U.S. missile defense, it does no such thing. Repeated testimony from Gates and our leading military leaders has refuted each of these arguments. The new treaty will actually make our missile defense plans easier and less costly, according to Director of the Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly.

Others have suggested that we should not enter into this treaty because the Russians are untrustworthy. This is exactly backwards. By opposing the treaty, critics are arguing in favor of eliminating the only checks we have against Russian untrustworthiness: surveillance and inspections of the Russian nuclear arsenal.

Every day that we delay is another day we aren’t getting the security and intelligence benefits we urgently need. The Senate has done its due diligence; it should offer its advice and give its consent. Listen to America’s leading military commanders: It is time to ratify this treaty.

Dirk Jameson served as Deputy Commander in Chief and Chief of Staff of U.S. Strategic Command before retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1996 after more than three decades of active service. Prior to his StratCom assignment, Gen. Jameson commanded the 14,500 men and women of the U.S. 20th Air Force, and was responsible for all U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, seven major subordinate units, operational training, testing, security and readiness.