The battle over ratification of the new START treaty is in its final stages, yet from a disarmament perspective the debate over its meaning has barely begun. The treaty will have little effect on the material institutions of the arms race. It will have only minimal effects on current nuclear weapons deployments, and places no meaningful limit on the modernization of nuclear arsenals or the development of strategically significant weapons systems such as missile defenses and conventional “prompt global strike” weapons with global reach. The principal purported benefits of new START, given that it requires only marginal arms reductions over seven years, mainly fall into two areas: resumption of on-the-ground verification measures, and re-establishment of a negotiating framework for future arms reductions. The concessions extracted by the weapons establishment in anticipation of ratification, in contrast, will have immediate and tangible effects, beginning with increases in weapons budgets and accelerated construction of new nuclear weapons facilities. These increased commitments of resources are intended to sustain a nuclear arsenal of civilization-destroying size for decades to come, and will further entrench interests that constitute long-term structural impediments to disarmament.
One would think that the START deal, with a treaty constituting at best very small arms reductions coming at the cost of material and policy measures that are explicitly designed to push any irreversible commitment to disarmament off many years into the future, would spark considerable debate within the U.S. “arms control and disarmament community.” Most U.S. arms control and disarmament organizations, however, have obediently lined up behind the Obama administration, parroting its talking points and saying little or nothing about the budget increases and policy promises provided to the nuclear weapons establishment. The vast majority of the e-mail blasts I receive from disarmament groups ask me to tell my Senator to vote for ratification without mentioning these commitments at all. The occasional message that mentions them seldom mentions their significance, despite the fact that it is quite clear that without these commitments–which, furthermore, have constantly increased as the ratification battle has dragged on–the chances for approval by the Senate are nil.
From the disarmament perspective, do the vast concrete negatives of the START deal outweigh its considerably more intangible positives? The “arms control and disarmament community” has concluded that the answer is yes, but has done so without any visible debate.
I have written a piece in which I examine the START treaty and deal in more detail, and also offer some reflections on the implications of the absence of debate on the matter among those who work for disarmament. That piece, published as a Western States Legal Foundation commentary, is available at the link below.
A shorter version of the piece is forthcoming in Wissenschaft und Frieden.