Republican Senate Rejection of START Could Actually Work in Disarmament’s Favor

The New York Times saw fit to provide valuable op-ed space to John Bolton and John Yoo on November 9. You’d think the latter, especially, best known for providing the Bush administration with legal justification for torture, would be reluctant to show his face — or byline — in public again. In this instance Bolton and Yoo are turning their collective wisdom to the new START treaty.

“The sweeping Democratic midterm losses last week raise serious questions for President Obama and a lame-duck Congress,” they write. “Voters want government brought closer to the vision the framers outlined in the Constitution” — laying it on a little thick, guys — “and the first test could be the fate of the flawed New Start arms control treaty [which] awaits ratification. The Senate should heed the will of the voters and either reject the treaty or amend it so that it doesn’t weaken our national defense.”

In his November 8 column for the Week, Daniel Larison of (the libertarian) American Conservative also addressed the fate of new START.

After the Republican gain of six seats in the Senate, including Mark Kirk of Illinois, who will be seated immediately, the arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, known as START, has much less of a chance of passing during the lame-duck session before January. . . . After the start of the new Congress, the treaty will be as good as dead.

When he then warns that such a course of action will “harm U.S. security interests,” he means something entirely different from Bolton and Yoo when they call for rejecting or amending new START in order that “it doesn’t weaken our national defense.” Larison is referring to the danger that “it will wreck the one mechanism available to the United States for verifying the nature and extent of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.”

In fact, there’s no love lost between this author and new START. For starters, as explained in April by Michael Bohm in the Moscow Times . . .

. . . Russia and the United States have agreed to apply “creative accounting” to pad the reductions on both sides to get to the much-desired 30 percent figure. . . . one trick was to count the 20 warheads on B-52 bombers as only one. At the end of the day, the real net cuts, according to Hans Kristenson of the Federation of American Scientists, will be only 100 U.S. deployed warheads and 190 Russian ones. [Another trick was revealed when] the two sides announced the final number — 1,550 deployed warheads — the key qualifier is “deployed.” The roughly 2,000 non-deployed warheads stored in U.S. military warehouses were not included in the New START.

More to the point, if Republicans truly reject or further water down new START, what becomes of the $80 billion for the next 10 years that the Obama administration promised to the nuclear-weapons industry in part to win Republican votes for ratification? Not to mention funding for, as Greg Mello writes in the latest bulletin of the Los Alamos Study Group, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility planned for Los Alamos, the cost of which “per square foot of useful space has grown to more than 100 times what [Los Alamos's] existing plutonium facility cost in 1978, in constant dollars.” In fact, “it’s the biggest project ever proposed for Los Alamos — six times the size of the whole Manhattan Project in New Mexico,” also in constant dollars. (I’ve still yet to digest that last revelation.)

Obviously concerned about losing that funding, Bolton and Yoo write, “Congress should pass a new law financing the testing and development of new warhead designs before approving New Start.” If it’s rejected or neutered, does the Obama administration plan to retract some or all of that funding? Unlikely, I know, but were that to occur it would look a lot more like disarmament than new START.