Either Russia single-handedly elected Trump and is the same threat it was at the height of the Cold War, or it is a strategic partner to save Western Civilization. Either it single-handedly determined the outcome of our election or poses no threat at all.
Neither of these false dichotomies is correct. Russia poses a long-term strategic threat, though not in the same way it did during the Cold War. And if we remain focused on building our own deterrent and on defending our interests while avoiding wasting trillions of dollars on Islamic civil wars, we can deter Putin. The first step in putting America first in this debate over Putin’s aggression is to terminate the unilateral disarmament treaty we forged with Putin under Obama.
Generally speaking, Trump’s policies toward Russia have been a lot stronger than his rhetoric. Whether it’s committing to modernizing our missile defense, reassuring the Eastern European allies that Obama abandoned, vitiating Putin’s prized Iran deal, or ramping up natural gas exports to combat Russian’s energy monopoly, Trump’s policies haven’t matched his embarrassing display of obsequiousness to Putin. Now that he stumbled in the Helsinki summit, there’s one way Trump and congressional Republicans can reclaim their legacy of America First, go on offense for our priorities, and expose the Democrat duplicity on Russia. Trump should commit to ending the New START Treaty.
Lost in the pandemonium created in the media and political world over Trump’s comments to Putin was Putin’s assertion that he wants to continue the lopsided nuclear disarmament deal after its expiration in 2021. “The Russian Defense Ministry is ready to enliven contact with the US colleagues, between our General Staffs and via other communication channels, to discuss extension of the START Treaty, cooperation in Syria, and other topical issues of military security,” said Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for Russia’s defense ministry, on Tuesday.
Trump should flatly say no to this idea. Also, congressional Republicans who claim to be so troubled by the president’s diplomacy with Putin should immediately introduce legislation blocking any extension of the deal.
A huge sellout to Russia
Talk about a bad deal. New START was the poster child of what Trump has derided as one-sided sellouts long before the Iran deal exemplified “America last” diplomacy.
New START was ratified by the Senate during the lame-duck session in 2010 after Democrats had already been crushed in the midterm elections. It was ratified with support of every Democrat senator and with the help of Republicans such as Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Johnny Isakson. These are some of the same senators lambasting Trump for being weak on Russia.
The treaty went into effect on February 5, 2011. Within exactly seven years, the parties were to reduce both their nuclear triad delivery systems – deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and strategic bombers – and nuclear warheads. The agreed-upon limit on delivery systems was 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers, of which no more than 700 could be deployed. The limit on warheads was placed at 1,550.
Right off the bat, the deal was lopsided because America started out with roughly 1,800 warheads in 2010, while Russia officially had 1,537, which was already below the target. While America reduced its stockpile to 1,350, a 25 percent reduction, Russia kept increasing its stockpile until the very final months of the February 2018 deadline. According to the Congressional Research Service, as late as March 2017, Russia reportedly had well over 1,700 warheads, but suddenly in February of this year, Russia claimed it only had 1,444 warheads and was in compliance with the treaty. As if we are to believe that after increasing their stockpile for the first six years of the treaty, the Russians suddenly got rid of them and complied with the treaty in the final year. What we do know is that we dramatically shrank our stockpile.
The same applies to the delivery systems. Russia only had 521 known deployed systems, well below the requirement, while we had over 880. Thus, Russia was able to modernize its systems without violating the caps, while we unilaterally disarmed.
Meanwhile, Russia violates old treaties
Meanwhile, Russia pocketed our unilateral disarmament and updated other weapons systems that were not governed by New START or that downright violate other arms deals. Last year, it was confirmed that Russia deployed new ground-launched intermediate-range cruise missile systems with nuclear capabilities aimed at Eastern Europe, in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Obama’s State Department, during the final three years of his presidency, warned that “the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the [1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces] INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km, or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” In the early ’90s, we destroyed 2,700 of our ground-launched intermediate-range missiles. One-sided, as always.
Despite years of warning and testing, the Obama administration did nothing to stop this, and the ratification of START only emboldened Russia’s development of these weapons.
At the end of his State of the Nation speech on March 1, 2018, before the Duma, Putin inveighed against our missile defense programs and unveiled a number of new weapons systems designed to overcome our missile defense capabilities. Russia is working on an array of modern nuclear offensive delivery capabilities while we continue to destroy our offensive capabilities. Mark Schneider, a nuclear weapons expert and leading thinker on Russia policy, details the full laundry list of Russia’s new Cold War plan and its violations of START.
Then there are the non-strategic or tactical nuclear weapons, which were never part of START but were covered by the 1987 INF. According to the latest DOD Nuclear Posture Review, Russia has maintained and developed new tactical nuclear weapons that “include air-to-surface missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, gravity bombs, and depth charges for medium-range bombers, tactical bombers, and naval aviation, as well as anti-ship, anti-submarine, and anti-aircraft missiles and torpedoes for surface ships and submarines, a nuclear ground-launched cruise missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty, and Moscow’s antiballistic missile system.”
Schneider has all the gory details of each of these systems among the air-delivered weapons here. They violate Article V of New START, which requires consultation with the Bilateral Consultative Commission when “a new kind of strategic offensive arm is emerging.” Based on Putin’s own bragging, these offensive systems are as cutting-edge as can be and are exclusively designed to bypass our missile defense.
Needless to say, Russia is not developing these weapons solely for the purpose of keeping control of Crimea. While we agreed to dismantle our strategic nukes and launchers, the Russians ramped up their tactical nukes and their delivery systems – all designed for relatively low-yield impact to tactically end wars the minute they start them without getting ensnared in the mutually assured destruction inherent in the stalemate between the strategic systems of both sides. And these tactical weapons that can be used at the first stages of conventional warfare can be placed on the launchers that Russia produced during the New START regime.
The New START treaty will remain in effect until February 5, 2021, right after a new president is sworn in or Trump begins his second term. Under the terms of the treaty, the deal can be extended until 2026 by a simple mutual executive agreement between the respective leaders without ratification by Congress or the Russian Duma. No wonder Putin declared at the Helsinki summit that “Russia stands ready to extend this treaty, to prolong it.”
Let’s see who really puts America ahead of Putin and who is scoring political points
This is where Congress comes in and where Trump has an opportunity to reverse course, renew his brand, and put the Democrats in a bind. There is no point in renewing a treaty that has allowed Russia to grow its dominance in delivery systems and tactical nuclear superweapons while holding us down. The verification of Russia’s compliance was always weak, while our compliance was transparent. As Schneider told CR:
I don’t believe that New START should be extended without full Russian compliance with both the INF Treaty and the New START Treaty. Russian actions that are violations of New START are being described in the Russian press including the state media. The New START Treaty has little national security value because it is too easy to circumvent or violate. Fixing the problems would be a major negotiation. No matter how good a negotiating team is put together, if there are significant Russian violations there can’t be a useful national security benefit. There certainly will be no reduction in the Russian nuclear threat.
What if Trump, McConnell, and Ryan announced this week that they plan to discontinue START and block any president from extending it in 2021? That is the way to put the Democrats and the media in a catch-22. After all, how could they claim an existential threat from Russian hackers embarrassing the DNC, but ignore the dangers of Russia’s nuclear capabilities thanks to a treaty proposed by Putin?
In the long run, there is no need to treat Russia as the end-all threat it was during the height of the Cold War. But we cannot ignore where it is headed, and its nuclear posture is a much graver threat than its ability to hack into negligently unprotected DNC servers. By simply putting America first and pursuing the nuclear offense and missile defense strategies that we need anyway to deal with North Korea, China, and Iran, and by asserting a Monroe Doctrine over Russia in Latin America, we will remain strong and won’t have to worry about Russia re-emerging as an equal rival.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.