While New START is a modest treaty in terms of strategic warhead reductions, it represents an important accomplishment for Russia and the United States: It re-establishes the data exchange on strategic-weapon systems and resets the US-Russia nuclear arms control relationship by building in a degree of predictability. It regularly brings together experts from both nations and increases transparency and decreases the possibility of misunderstanding.
But the domestic bargains struck to ensure the passage of this modest treaty in the US were much more significant – and, ultimately, destabilizing – than its meager benefits.
Huge funding increases for America’s nuclear-weapons complex and “modernization” programs as well as the green-lighting of the flawed missile-defense system were offered as concessions to reluctant hawks to get their agreement to sign on the dotted line. Obama entered office not favoring the ill-tested missile defense system but changed his mind because he needed additional votes to pass New START.
And this missile-defense “time bomb” in New START is what is now going off.
It is not only the monetary cost of the funding increase for the nuclear-weapons complex and missile defense, totaling about $200 billion over the next decade, but also the negative arms control blowback that make the domestic ransom paid to get passage of New START a ridiculously bad deal. The huge concessions made were simply not worth the modest goals of the treaty and, in fact, are now actively undermining it. A proper cost-benefit analysis carried out before acceding to the demands of defense-hawks would have clearly indicated this.
The anticipated increase in security by slightly reducing strategic-nuclear-warhead numbers is now more than negated by the poisoning of relations with Russia over missile defense. It would possibly be worth tolerating the deteriorating relations with Russia if the planned missile-defense system were actually effective against Iran or North Korea.