Although the U.S. Senate gave its advice and consent to the ratification of New START, a strategic nuclear arms control treaty with the Russian Federation, the debate about the substance and ramifications of the treaty is far from resolved.
Dr. Keith Payne, President of the National Institute for Public Policy, argues in his latest article that the Senate was misinformed by the Obama Administration about New START. Despite the Obama Administration’s claims to the contrary, Russian officials have publicly stated that the Russian Federation will not have to cut even a single warhead as a result of reductions stipulated in the treaty. But this question also remains—on how many other issues with New START was the Senate misled?
Anatoly Serdyukov, Russia’s Defense Minister, said that Russia will not have to cut a single unit, be it a delivery vehicle or a warhead, because those will be retired before the expiration of their service life. Accordingly, the U.S. is the only party to the treaty that actually has to cut its warheads and delivery vehicles under the treaty limits. The Administration has never acknowledged this apparent disparity and even stated that “the Treaty imposes equal limits on both Parties.”
However, “equal limits” are not the only issue in the treaty where the Administration appears to have misled the Senate. During the New START debates, a number of experts expressed concerns about the negative impact of New START’s provisions in the preamble, the body, the protocol, and the annexes of the treaty for the U.S. missile defense program. To that end, Senators John McCain (R–AZ), Bob Corker (R–TN), and Joe Lieberman (I–CT) attached an understanding to the treaty on December 22, 2010, that specifically rejects the Russian claim that the language in the preamble is legally binding. The same understanding also states that New START does not impose any limitation on the deployment of missile defenses (other than the requirements of paragraph 3 of Article V).
It now appears likely that the ratification law of the Russian Federation, approved by the Duma in the second reading of New START, may include language that is tantamount to asserting that language the treaty beyond Article V, paragraph 3, is legally binding on the U.S. Apparently, the understanding the Duma is considering attaching to the treaty will clearly and unequivocally reject the understanding attached by the Senate.
This raises the question of whether the two diametrically opposed understandings will or should bar the exchange of the instruments of ratification between the two parties and prevent entry into force of New START. By exchanging the instruments of ratification, the U.S. runs the risk of being charged by Russia with material breach of New START if it undertakes steps to qualitatively or quantitatively improve U.S. missile defense capabilities according to is present plans. This situation illustrates that there is no agreement between the parties on an issue that is essential to the treaty. As critics have pointed out all along, there is an irreconcilable difference between the two parties on the issue of missile defense, which suggests that the treaty might be an exercise in futility.