Senator DeMint Questions New START

May 20, 2010

By Oliver Bloom


As reporters, columnists and bloggers have pointed out, Senator DeMint’s line of questioning during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearings on ratification of the new START treaty represents an antiquated and destabilizing approach to arms control. Senator DeMint went much further than his Republican colleagues when he said that it is
absurd and dangerous [for] America to seek parity with Russia when it comes to nuclear weapons. Russia doesn’t have thirty counting on them for protection.
Strategic parity has been at the root of the nuclear relationship between the U.S. and the USSR/Russia for more than thirty years. Accepting strategic parity was the only means for the U.S. and Russia to not only halt the ever more expensive arms race, but also begin major cutbacks in each side’s nuclear arsenal. To abandon the concept of parity would be to invite the Russians to abandon their cutbacks. Senator DeMint failed to explain how removing the main check on arms races would make the U.S. any safer. 
Senator DeMint didn’t stop there. Using language reminiscent of the Cold War rather than the 21st century, he described Russia as a “threat to many” and then asked
            is it not desirable for us to have a missile defense system that renders their threat useless?
Here, Senator DeMint runs amuck of the realities of the United States’ missile defense program and its aims. Senator Kerry was quick to jump on Senator DeMint’s question, answering:
I don’t personally think so because what’ll happen is, if you get near that, [the Russians] will do exactly what we did over the course of fifty years. They will build to the point they feel they can overwhelm your defense and then you go back right into the entire scenario we had throughout the Cold War which took us up to 50,000 warheads each, or more.
Secretary Gates, hardly an anti-nuclear dove, joined in, saying that not only was the American missile defense program “not aimed at Russia,” but that a missile defense system capable of rendering Russia’s capabilities useless
in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive.
Here marks the fundamental disconnect between Senator DeMint and the last twenty years of American missile defense and arms control policy. While President Reagan was a strong proponent of an American missile defense program capable of neutralizing Soviet offensive capabilities, the technical difficulties and the sheer cost of such a program, not to mention the demise of the Soviet Union, prompted a reevaluation of the American missile defense program. As Secretary Gates stressed in his response, and as Peter Baker quickly pointed out
Mr. DeMint’s grievance, though, goes contrary to Mr. Bush’s vision for the program. During his presidency, Mr. Bush stated repeatedly that missile defense would not threaten Russia’s security. His plan called for just 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, which could counter a possible future Iranian threat but would be useless against Russia’s thousands of warheads.
When even the effectiveness of President Obama’s modest missile defense program is a subject of controversy, and when Senator DeMint himself stresses the budgetary woes of the federal government, now hardly seems the time to be fundamentally expanding the scope and cost of America’s missile defense program. Senator DeMint should not be in the business of saying
Senator Kerry proved why Americans have a hard time fully trusting the left to put American interests first in foreign affairs
when Senator DeMint was actually taking issue with a policy begun by President Bush and supported by Secretary Gates, both hardly stalwarts of the left.
At the root of the issue may be a fundamental misunderstanding of nuclear issues. Questioning why missile defense was even referred to in the preamble (a point that Secretary of State Clinton and former Secretary of State Baker explained was nothing more than a rhetorical measure), the Senator said
for [the U.S.] to even include in the treaty the idea that these things (offensive arms and missile defense) are interrelated is somewhat frightening to me.

Senator DeMint would be right if he was suggesting that the United States’ current missile defense program, aimed at stopping only a few missiles from rogue states, has nothing to do with Russia’s thousands of ballistic missiles. But as we have already seen, Senator DeMint believes that the American missile defense program should be directed against the Russians. And if that is the case, then the Senator needs to understand, as the arms race during the Cold War made quite clear, that offense and defense are inherently interrelated, and their competition can be immensely destabilizing. Now is not the time to be returning to the thinking of the Cold War.