Usually when two nations hammer out an agreement, both respective leaders come to the table with the intention of getting the best deal possible for their side. As luck would have it for Russia in 2009, START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) which has governed the strategic nuclear strengths of the U.S. and Russia since 1991, expired leaving the perpetually apologetic for American might Obama responsible for negotiating its replacement.
Because of the poor Russian economy, by 2009 the former Soviet state couldn’t afford to maintain all 700 of the strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (ICBM, SLBM and nuclear-capable bombers) that it was allowed under START I. The U.S. on the other hand had all 850 of its missile systems in place. Because Obama agreed to set a new limit of 700, the treaty represents unilateral disarmament by U.S. without the Russians having to give up anything substantial in return. It also did nothing to address the massive 10-1 advantage Russia maintains in regards to tactical nuclear weapons that are not governed by the agreement. According to the Moscow Times, “When asked by the Senate why New START addresses only strategic weapons, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted ‘they were not willing to negotiate on tactical nukes.’”
Massive quantities of tactical nukes might not mean much to the U.S., but it is a very big deal to our allies Poland and Ukraine.
Verifying Russian compliance with the treaty also leaves much to be desired. While the U.S. has kept up with its nuclear commitments, a classified report released to the Senate revealed “a number of direct violations of START I by the Russians”. Negotiating a strategic agreement with an unreliable partner seemed counterproductive to John McCain who asked a leading general, “if it doesn’t have any consequences if (Russia) do any cheating, what’s the point in having a treaty?”
The new START treaty contains many ambiguities that undermine its effectiveness. While the total number of ready-to-launch strategic warheads is supposedly to be 1550, “the Russian news agency RIA Novosti acknowledges that loopholes allow Russia to keep 2,100.”
There is the issue of missile defense that is covered in the preamble as following:
Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties but not addressed in the treaty itself.
Both sides disagree on the meaning of the above statement. The Russians argue that it prevents the U.S. from developing its strategic missile defense capabilities while the Obama administration says it does nothing of the sort. This lack of clarity came to a head in November 2011 when Russia threatened to aim its missiles at U.S. missile defense sites in Europe if their construction was not halted. The signing of a strategic nuclear arms agreement in which both sides cannot agree on its meaning is outrageous and could very well have catastrophic consequences.
While America’s nuclear deterrent has been steadily aging, the Russians have been spending billions on bringing their strategic nuclear systems up to date. In 2011 it was revealed that Russia was set to double its production of a new delivery system that “surpasses all modern solid-fuel strategic missiles of Britain, China, Russia, the USA and France”.
Because of the growing lack of parity in nuclear capabilities between the two nations and distrust with the Obama administration, the Senate included an amendment to the new START treaty that requires “the U.S. President to certify that strategic nuclear weapon delivery systems (bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles) will be modernized”.
New START was so unpopular with voters, at least the ones who understood what it meant, that Democrats didn’t want to make it yet another reason to vote them out of office en masse in the November 2010 elections. Even though Obama had originally signed the treaty in April 2010, the Senate put off ratifying it until the lame duck session when voters could no longer hold senators accountable for putting our nuclear superiority at risk.