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New START Clears the Path for Missile Defense
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Volume 1, Number 39, December 1, 2010

It is ironic that critics of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) use missile defense as an excuse to oppose Senate approval. In reality, New START clears the path for missile defense, as shown by the recent U.S.-NATO agreement to deploy new missile defenses in Europe.

Moreover, contrary to recent media reports, there is no U.S.-Russian "secret deal" to limit U.S. missile defenses--only a public effort to cooperate. Washington overtures to cooperate with Moscow on missile defense are nothing new; they began under President Reagan and continued under George W. Bush.

New START is missile defense-friendly

The only missile defense "constraint" of any kind in New START is the prohibition on converting long-range missile launchers for use by missile defense interceptors. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, testified to Congress that there are no plans to convert launchers, and that if any new missile defense launchers were needed, it would be quicker and cheaper to build new ones. None of the critics have explained how this provision limits U.S. missile defense options in the real world. Moreover, O'Reilly explained that the treaty "...actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program [compared to the 1991 START agreement]," by allowing the launch of missile defense targets from airborne and waterborne platforms.

Some treaty critics also complain that New START's preambular language recognizes the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms. Yet including this simple truism in the preamble did not lead to any numerical or qualitative limits on missile defenses in the treaty. Moreover, the preamble also notes that "current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties" - a Russian acknowledgement that the 30 U.S. strategic ballistic missile interceptors currently deployed do not threaten Moscow's strategic nuclear retaliatory capability.

Also objectionable to critics is a (non-binding) Russian unilateral statement that New START "may be effective and viable only in conditions where there is no qualitative or quantitative build-up" in U.S. missile defense system capabilities and that such a build-up could prompt Russia to withdraw from the treaty. The United States issued its own unilateral statement in response, explaining that U.S. missile defenses "are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia," and that the United States intends "to continue improving and deploying its missile defense systems in order to defend itself against limited attack."

NATO endorses U.S. missile defense plan

The United States has made clear that New START would not prevent U.S. missile defense deployments. To prove the point, at the Nov. 19-20 Summit in Lisbon, NATO agreed to endorse the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) to missile defense and the initial phase will become operational next year. The PAA provides a clear roadmap for U.S. development and deployment of future missile defense systems in Europe--during New START's duration--that is more responsive to present and near-term missile threats from Iran.

In Lisbon, NATO and Russia agreed to resume theater missile defense exercises and discuss ways to cooperate on missile defense in the future. According to the State Department, U.S.-Russia and NATO-Russia cooperation on missile defense is "intended to help improve our defensive capabilities, strengthen transparency, and reduce Russia's concerns about the United States' missile defense efforts by providing it with further insight into the nature of and motivations for U.S. and NATO ballistic missile defense plans and programs."

Talks on Cooperation, Not Limitation

Recent media reports implying that the United States was engaged with Russia in "secret talks" to limit missile defense are overblown and misleading. The administration made no secret of the fact that it was talking with Russia on missile defense cooperation and has been clear it is not discussing limitations.

At a June 17 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Gates stated: "Separately from the treaty, we are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations." Moreover, the talks were not about limiting missile defense plans, but cooperating on them. "Such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans," said Gates.

U.S.-Russian efforts to cooperate on missile defense have roots in the Reagan administration, which offered to share missile defense technology with the Soviet Union. More recently, in 2004, under the George W. Bush administration, the United States began seeking a Defense Technical Cooperation Agreement (DTCA) with Russia. This agreement would have addressed a broad range of cooperative research and development activities, including missile defense. The last DTCA discussions with Russia were held in 2008.

Bush administration Assistant Secretary of State Stephen G. Rademaker said in 2004, "We want missile defense cooperation to be an important part of the new relationship the United States and Russia are building for the 21st century."

The Obama administration decided to pursue a more limited agreement that would only address missile defense cooperation, know as a Ballistic Missile Defense Cooperation Agreement (BMDCA). According to the State Department, the proposed BMDCA would "establish a framework to allow for bilateral BMD cooperation, including: transparency and confidence building measures; BMD exercises; data sharing; research and development; and technology sharing." The U.S.-proposed BMDCA specifically states that "This agreement shall not constrain or limit the Parties' respective BMD plans and capabilities numerically, qualitatively, operationally, geographically, or in any other way."

The Bottom Line

New START is a missile defense-friendly treaty. It does not constrain U.S. missile defense plans in any way. Nor is the United States engaged in secret side deals with Russia to limit missile defenses.

Failure to approve New START this year will jeopardize the current opportunity for the United States and Russia to work together effectively on missile defense. - TOM Z. COLLINA AND GREG THIELMANN