Mitt Romney's Mistaken New START Theses

By ACA Intern Matthew Sugrue Mitt Romney recently published a follow-up to his Washington Post critique in the National Review. Unfortunately, as in his first piece for the Washington Post Mr. Romney incorrectly represents some of New START's provisions. There are three points in particular that are should be addressed. 1. Romney claims that Russia has "succeeded in restricting not only our strategic nuclear capability and missile-defense program but also [the America's] strategic conventional capability." The basic point of any arms control treaty is to impose restrictions. New START is no different. It restricts our capabilities as well as Russian capabilities. Without restrictions, New START is not an arms control treaty but a press release by the United States and Russia about what we each think. New START restricts both sides without giving either country an undue advantage. 2. Mr. Romney's claims that the verification provisions of New START are "inadequate" compared to earlier arms control treaties. There are serious problems with comparing new treaties to earlier ones, since the international political and security climate has changed. In any case, New START verification compares favorably to previous arms control treaties with Russia. The Bush administration's Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), for example, contained no verification provisions. Romney probably means to compare New START and START I. If so, he is contradict by Republican Senator Richard Lugar, an established expert on foreign policy and arms control, who has said that New START "will provide more transparency than START I." It should also be noted that START I has expired, so the United States does not currently have any verification regime in place regarding Russian nuclear forces. I think that Mr. Romney would agree that New START's verification measures are better than having none at all. 3. Romney claims that New START limits U.S. ballistic missile defense. Attacks on New START over its supposed restrictions on missile defense are based on an erroneous reading of the treaty text. According to testimony by Lieutenant General Patrick J O'Reilly, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA):

"New START Treaty has no constraints on current and future components of the BMDS [Ballistic Missile Defense] development or deployment... the New START Treaty actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program."

Romney echoes other New START critics when he says that New START "prohibits our conversion of ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers for the launching of defensive interceptors." This does not prevent the United States from building silos specifically designed for ground-based interceptors (GBI) for its missile defense program. In fact, building silos is better than converting existing ICBM silos. If we take Director of MDA Lt. Gen. O'Reilly at his word, then it is about "20 million dollars" better. The silos built specifically for GBIs "cost 20 million dollars less than converting ICBM silos and [are] easier to protect and maintain." To suggest that New START impedes U.S. missile defense plans is unsuported by any evidence or any realistic understanding of existing U.S. missile defense programs.