Commentary Magazine


Topic: Medvedev

RE: Russian Impunity, Obama’s Indifference

Eli Lake has more on the attack on Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, said in an interview that those who assaulted him were linked to a pro-Putin youth group known as the Nashi. In a telephone interview, he said the assailants sneaked up on him at the airport after he retrieved his luggage and cleared customs and threw a fishing net onto him and proceeded to take photos. “I guess I am a big fish,” he told The Washington Times.

Two U.S. senators spoke out forcefully:

“I was disturbed to learn that he was attacked today at a Moscow airport upon his return to Russia after suggesting at the event that top Kremlin advisers, including Vladislav Surkov, be blacklisted from the United States,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said this week.

“In the attack on Mr. Nemtsov, occurring at a major international airport, it would seem there would be ample evidence and eyewitnesses to facilitate a thorough investigation,” Mr. Cardin said. …

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview that the harassment of Mr. Nemtsov was “part of a continuation of the disappearance of democracy and rights of the individual in Russia, particularly if you were part of previous administrations and speak out in opposition to the present repression of the press and people who are in opposition to the Putin administration.”

And what about the administration? It continues to talk “quietly” to Russian authorities, so quietly that its entreaties have apparently been ignored. The message is unmistakable: in order to preserve “reset,” we are willing to downplay concerns about human rights:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin. But some critics say the White House approach is too soft on democracy and human rights in Russia.

“We all know one of the major reasons why the Berlin Wall came down in the first place is because of the steadfastness of support for those standing up for risks for freedom behind the Iron Curtain,” Mr. McCain said. “Obviously, this administration is far more interested in pushing the quote reset button.”

If we actually were getting something for our appeasement, the approach would be amoral, but understandable. But we are not — Russian help on Afghanistan is minimal, and it has helped construct the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The Nemtsov incident is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s obsequiousness; it has stern words only for our allies.

Eli Lake has more on the attack on Boris Nemtsov:

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister, said in an interview that those who assaulted him were linked to a pro-Putin youth group known as the Nashi. In a telephone interview, he said the assailants sneaked up on him at the airport after he retrieved his luggage and cleared customs and threw a fishing net onto him and proceeded to take photos. “I guess I am a big fish,” he told The Washington Times.

Two U.S. senators spoke out forcefully:

“I was disturbed to learn that he was attacked today at a Moscow airport upon his return to Russia after suggesting at the event that top Kremlin advisers, including Vladislav Surkov, be blacklisted from the United States,” Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said this week.

“In the attack on Mr. Nemtsov, occurring at a major international airport, it would seem there would be ample evidence and eyewitnesses to facilitate a thorough investigation,” Mr. Cardin said. …

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said in an interview that the harassment of Mr. Nemtsov was “part of a continuation of the disappearance of democracy and rights of the individual in Russia, particularly if you were part of previous administrations and speak out in opposition to the present repression of the press and people who are in opposition to the Putin administration.”

And what about the administration? It continues to talk “quietly” to Russian authorities, so quietly that its entreaties have apparently been ignored. The message is unmistakable: in order to preserve “reset,” we are willing to downplay concerns about human rights:

The Obama administration has sought to engage Mr. Medvedev while marginalizing the former president and current prime minister, Mr. Putin. But some critics say the White House approach is too soft on democracy and human rights in Russia.

“We all know one of the major reasons why the Berlin Wall came down in the first place is because of the steadfastness of support for those standing up for risks for freedom behind the Iron Curtain,” Mr. McCain said. “Obviously, this administration is far more interested in pushing the quote reset button.”

If we actually were getting something for our appeasement, the approach would be amoral, but understandable. But we are not — Russian help on Afghanistan is minimal, and it has helped construct the Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran. The Nemtsov incident is just the latest example of the Obama administration’s obsequiousness; it has stern words only for our allies.

Read Less

Iran’s Game of Negotiations

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

One unanswered question about the nuclear-swap deal: who provides the 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods to Iran? Because that is what swapping means — Iran gives Turkey 1,200 kilograms; the 1,200 kilograms sit in Turkey under IAEA, Iranian, and Turkish supervision for a month and then either they are swapped or they return home. Under the original agreement, there was no swapping — Iran would transfer 1,200 kilograms, Russia and France would reprocess them, and the resulting product (20 percent enriched fuel rods) would then return to Iran.

By negotiating a swap with Turkey, Iran adds a step to the process — 1,200 kilograms go to Turkey. They are swapped with 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium fuel rods; the 1,200 kilograms go to Russia and France to be reprocessed and then they return to Iran.

You can see this as a bazaar trick to get a discount — for the same price, now Iran gets 240 kilograms of fuel rods instead of 120. Or you can see it as an exchange of hostages — you take our fuel, we take yours.

Still, the question remains unanswered — who supplies 120 kilograms to Iran within a month of delivery?

Turkey? Brazil? The original Vienna group of France, Russia, and the United States?

And while we are at it: who ensures the safety of the nuclear material once it reaches Turkish territory? Turkey is not known to have the facilities to do so.

So let me make a guess. The deal goes nowhere. It falls through. But for a good six to eight weeks, the Iranians are the good guys, the ball is in the West’s court, the sanctions’ effort in New York loses steam, Turkey and Brazil vote against any sanctions’ resolution, and Moscow urges France and the United States to consider the swap deal as a good bridging proposal to “build upon.”

That’s the beauty of the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil. It puts the West into a corner for two reasons: first, because it allows Iran to break its isolation — with Turkey and Brazil now having negotiated a deal independently of the U.S., the Security Council, the IAEA, or the P5+1, it’s the U.S. and the EU that look isolated.

And second, because now President Obama, President Sarkozy, and President Medvedev (or Prime Minister Putin, who knows?) — the original promoters of the transfer deal from last October — will have to say whether they are prepared to go the extra mile and do what Iran demands in exchange for transferring its uranium to Turkey — something they were not prepared to do back in October. My guess is that Russia will go one way, France and the U.S. the opposite way. So here’s the master stroke: in one fell swoop, Iran managed to create a rift inside the UN Security Council and the Vienna Group at the same time.

Give Iran credit then, as Jennifer and Jonathan note — it has just gained another few months.

Read Less

A Dose of Reality

As he so often does, Sen. Joe Lieberman introduces a dose of reality into the national-security debate: the START treaty isn’t going to be ratified in its current form:

“I don’t believe that there will be 67 votes to ratify the START treaty unless the administration does two things,” Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “First, commit to modernize our nuclear stockpile so as we have less nuclear weapons we know they’re capable, if, God forbid, we need them; and secondly, to make absolutely clear that some of the statements by Russian President Medvedev at the signing in Prague that seem to suggest that if we continue to build the ballistic missile defense in Europe that they may pull out of this treaty — they’re just unacceptable to us. “We need that defense to protect our allies and ourselves from Iran,” Lieberman said.

The problem, of course, is that Medvedev has support for his statements in the text of the treaty. What Lieberman requires — a repudiation of linkage — would require amending the just-signed treaty. Once again one is left to ponder the Obami’s “strategy” — if there is one. Did they imagine no one would notice the linkage to missile defense? Did they think that in an election year they’d get this ratified — or that with reduced Democratic numbers in the Senate it would get through next year? Perhaps all Obama wanted was a signing ceremony, something to justify his “reset” policy and his previous betrayal of Eastern European allies. It is hard to imagine that the Russians will be pleased and our relationship enhanced once we break the news to them that their shiny new treaty is dead on arrival.

Lieberman also blasted the administration for its Orwellian language in addressing the threat of Islamic fundamentalism:

Sen. Joe Lieberman slammed the Obama administration Sunday for stripping terms like “Islamic extremism” from a key national security document, calling the move dishonest, wrong-headed and disrespectful to the majority of Muslims who are not terrorists.

The Connecticut independent revealed that he wrote a letter Friday to top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan urging the administration to “identify accurately the ideological source” of the threat against the United States. He wrote that failing to identify “violent Islamist extremism” as the enemy is “offensive.”

The letter was written following reports that the administration was removing religious references from the U.S. National Security Strategy — the document that had described the “ideological conflict” of the early 21st century as “the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism.”

Lieberman told “Fox News Sunday” this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has tried to tiptoe around referring to Islam in its security documents and that it’s time to “blow the whistle” on the trend.

“This is not honest and, frankly, I think it’s hurtful in our relations with the Muslim world,” Lieberman said. “We’re not in a war against Islam. It’s a group of Islamist extremists who have taken the Muslim religion and made it into a political ideology, and I think if we’re not clear about that, we disrespect the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are not extremists.”

This is the Obama national security approach: paper agreements which can’t be ratified and an enemy that can’t be named. Meanwhile the mullahs proceed to build their nuclear weapons.

As he so often does, Sen. Joe Lieberman introduces a dose of reality into the national-security debate: the START treaty isn’t going to be ratified in its current form:

“I don’t believe that there will be 67 votes to ratify the START treaty unless the administration does two things,” Lieberman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “First, commit to modernize our nuclear stockpile so as we have less nuclear weapons we know they’re capable, if, God forbid, we need them; and secondly, to make absolutely clear that some of the statements by Russian President Medvedev at the signing in Prague that seem to suggest that if we continue to build the ballistic missile defense in Europe that they may pull out of this treaty — they’re just unacceptable to us. “We need that defense to protect our allies and ourselves from Iran,” Lieberman said.

The problem, of course, is that Medvedev has support for his statements in the text of the treaty. What Lieberman requires — a repudiation of linkage — would require amending the just-signed treaty. Once again one is left to ponder the Obami’s “strategy” — if there is one. Did they imagine no one would notice the linkage to missile defense? Did they think that in an election year they’d get this ratified — or that with reduced Democratic numbers in the Senate it would get through next year? Perhaps all Obama wanted was a signing ceremony, something to justify his “reset” policy and his previous betrayal of Eastern European allies. It is hard to imagine that the Russians will be pleased and our relationship enhanced once we break the news to them that their shiny new treaty is dead on arrival.

Lieberman also blasted the administration for its Orwellian language in addressing the threat of Islamic fundamentalism:

Sen. Joe Lieberman slammed the Obama administration Sunday for stripping terms like “Islamic extremism” from a key national security document, calling the move dishonest, wrong-headed and disrespectful to the majority of Muslims who are not terrorists.

The Connecticut independent revealed that he wrote a letter Friday to top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan urging the administration to “identify accurately the ideological source” of the threat against the United States. He wrote that failing to identify “violent Islamist extremism” as the enemy is “offensive.”

The letter was written following reports that the administration was removing religious references from the U.S. National Security Strategy — the document that had described the “ideological conflict” of the early 21st century as “the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism.”

Lieberman told “Fox News Sunday” this isn’t the first time the Obama administration has tried to tiptoe around referring to Islam in its security documents and that it’s time to “blow the whistle” on the trend.

“This is not honest and, frankly, I think it’s hurtful in our relations with the Muslim world,” Lieberman said. “We’re not in a war against Islam. It’s a group of Islamist extremists who have taken the Muslim religion and made it into a political ideology, and I think if we’re not clear about that, we disrespect the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are not extremists.”

This is the Obama national security approach: paper agreements which can’t be ratified and an enemy that can’t be named. Meanwhile the mullahs proceed to build their nuclear weapons.

Read Less

Obama to Follow the North Korean Model on Iran

There hasn’t been much reason for anyone to have confidence about Barack Obama’s seriousness of purpose when it comes to trying to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capability. But the president’s statement today on ABC’s Good Morning America appeared to remove any doubt about whether the administration was prepared to live with a nuclear Iran.

When asked by George Stephanopoulos about Russian President Medvedev’s promise to cooperate with U.S. diplomatic efforts on Iran, Obama tried to trumpet this shaky agreement as a great American triumph while at the same time lowering expectations that it will actually lead to any action, let alone a modification of Iranian behavior.

“If the question is do we have a guarantee as to the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t,” Obama said. “The history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”

Since the only sorts of sanctions on Iran that Russia will agree to will make no impression on Tehran, Obama is right to lower our expectations. But his invocation of the example of North Korea is particularly ominous. Nearly two decades of alternating meaningless sanctions with appeasement and engagement have led to a depressing situation where the West has been left with no option but acquiescence to a nuclear North Korea. If the best the president of the United States can do in response to Iran’s intransigence is to merely say that his efforts might or might not succeed, why should anyone doubt that he is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran as he is with North Korea?

Despite Obama’s talk about his optimism about the Iranian regime being smart enough to see that they will benefit from abandoning their nuclear quest, it’s more than obvious that what Tehran will glean from this interview — as well as everything else the administration has said and done on this issue — will be that they have nothing to lose by continuing on their current path. With Russia and China effectively blocking any hope for crippling sanctions, with the threat of force off the table, and with the president now openly preparing the nation for America’s failure, why should the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime do anything but use all the extra time Obama has gifted them with to forge ahead toward their nuclear goal?

It should also be noted that when asked by Stephanopoulos about the latest round of vicious personal insults directed at him by Ahmadinejad, Obama responded with his stereotypical cool and merely spoke about “unproductive” remarks. Indeed, the worst thing Obama could say about the Iranian was to compare him with Sarah Palin, whose spot-on criticism of the administration’s nuclear policy he dismissed with contempt. A man who doesn’t see much of a distinction between a domestic political opponent and a Holocaust-denying anti-Semitic tyrant is missing a moral compass. But then again, this is the same person who has chosen to wage diplomatic war on Israel while engaging Iran and appeasing Russia.

There hasn’t been much reason for anyone to have confidence about Barack Obama’s seriousness of purpose when it comes to trying to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capability. But the president’s statement today on ABC’s Good Morning America appeared to remove any doubt about whether the administration was prepared to live with a nuclear Iran.

When asked by George Stephanopoulos about Russian President Medvedev’s promise to cooperate with U.S. diplomatic efforts on Iran, Obama tried to trumpet this shaky agreement as a great American triumph while at the same time lowering expectations that it will actually lead to any action, let alone a modification of Iranian behavior.

“If the question is do we have a guarantee as to the sanctions we are able to institute at this stage are automatically going to change Iranian behavior, of course we don’t,” Obama said. “The history of the Iranian regime, like the North Korean regime is that, you know, you apply international pressure on these countries, sometimes they choose to change behavior, sometimes they don’t.”

Since the only sorts of sanctions on Iran that Russia will agree to will make no impression on Tehran, Obama is right to lower our expectations. But his invocation of the example of North Korea is particularly ominous. Nearly two decades of alternating meaningless sanctions with appeasement and engagement have led to a depressing situation where the West has been left with no option but acquiescence to a nuclear North Korea. If the best the president of the United States can do in response to Iran’s intransigence is to merely say that his efforts might or might not succeed, why should anyone doubt that he is prepared to live with a nuclear Iran as he is with North Korea?

Despite Obama’s talk about his optimism about the Iranian regime being smart enough to see that they will benefit from abandoning their nuclear quest, it’s more than obvious that what Tehran will glean from this interview — as well as everything else the administration has said and done on this issue — will be that they have nothing to lose by continuing on their current path. With Russia and China effectively blocking any hope for crippling sanctions, with the threat of force off the table, and with the president now openly preparing the nation for America’s failure, why should the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime do anything but use all the extra time Obama has gifted them with to forge ahead toward their nuclear goal?

It should also be noted that when asked by Stephanopoulos about the latest round of vicious personal insults directed at him by Ahmadinejad, Obama responded with his stereotypical cool and merely spoke about “unproductive” remarks. Indeed, the worst thing Obama could say about the Iranian was to compare him with Sarah Palin, whose spot-on criticism of the administration’s nuclear policy he dismissed with contempt. A man who doesn’t see much of a distinction between a domestic political opponent and a Holocaust-denying anti-Semitic tyrant is missing a moral compass. But then again, this is the same person who has chosen to wage diplomatic war on Israel while engaging Iran and appeasing Russia.

Read Less

Obama’s Nuclear Sideshow

So Presidents Obama and Medvedev have signed a new nuclear-arms reduction accord. Big deal. The actual cuts called for under the treaty are modest because of accounting tricks that allow a B-52 bomber, which can carry 20 nuclear warheads, to be counted as one “weapon.” The treaty doesn’t affect at all the thousands of tactical nuclear warheads or strategic warheads in storage.

During the Cold War this no doubt would have been hailed as a “breakthrough” but today the treaty seems like an anachronism — a throwback to the world of rotary-dial phones, cars with tail fins, and superpower confrontations. What, one wonders, is the point?

Perhaps Obama hopes this will somehow push the “reset” button on U.S.-Russia relations. If so, I suspect he is deceiving himself; Russia is willing to sign the treaty but not sign off on truly tough sanctions on Iran. Perhaps Obama simply revels in diplomacy for its own sake. If so, this is one of the less harmful manifestations of that proclivity. And perhaps this is part of his larger project to eliminate nuclear weapons in general.

That is a superficially alluring proposition, which is simply impossible to implement in this imperfect world: How would you ever make sure that rogue regimes don’t hide nukes or build new ones in the future? The answer is you can’t, so the U.S. has no option but to keep its nuclear deterrent robust. I don’t think the recent moves by Obama, from the Nuclear Posture Review to the START treaty, jeopardize our deterrent — so I, unlike some on the Right, am not unduly alarmed by them.

I do think, however, that it would be good if he were to commit to doing more for modernizing our nuclear forces, including holding out the possibility of building new nuclear weapons in the future — something that he has rejected for the moment and that perhaps Senate Republicans can force him to reconsider as the price of START ratification. But as I have indicated before, I think all of this is basically a sideshow. The real action isn’t happening in Prague. It’s in Tehran, where the mullahs are getting ever closer to a nuclear weapon — and they won’t be convinced to give up their atomic ambitions because the U.S. is willing to cut is own arsenal. If anything, American concessions embolden Iran into thinking that we are a “weak horse” that can be defied with impunity.

So Presidents Obama and Medvedev have signed a new nuclear-arms reduction accord. Big deal. The actual cuts called for under the treaty are modest because of accounting tricks that allow a B-52 bomber, which can carry 20 nuclear warheads, to be counted as one “weapon.” The treaty doesn’t affect at all the thousands of tactical nuclear warheads or strategic warheads in storage.

During the Cold War this no doubt would have been hailed as a “breakthrough” but today the treaty seems like an anachronism — a throwback to the world of rotary-dial phones, cars with tail fins, and superpower confrontations. What, one wonders, is the point?

Perhaps Obama hopes this will somehow push the “reset” button on U.S.-Russia relations. If so, I suspect he is deceiving himself; Russia is willing to sign the treaty but not sign off on truly tough sanctions on Iran. Perhaps Obama simply revels in diplomacy for its own sake. If so, this is one of the less harmful manifestations of that proclivity. And perhaps this is part of his larger project to eliminate nuclear weapons in general.

That is a superficially alluring proposition, which is simply impossible to implement in this imperfect world: How would you ever make sure that rogue regimes don’t hide nukes or build new ones in the future? The answer is you can’t, so the U.S. has no option but to keep its nuclear deterrent robust. I don’t think the recent moves by Obama, from the Nuclear Posture Review to the START treaty, jeopardize our deterrent — so I, unlike some on the Right, am not unduly alarmed by them.

I do think, however, that it would be good if he were to commit to doing more for modernizing our nuclear forces, including holding out the possibility of building new nuclear weapons in the future — something that he has rejected for the moment and that perhaps Senate Republicans can force him to reconsider as the price of START ratification. But as I have indicated before, I think all of this is basically a sideshow. The real action isn’t happening in Prague. It’s in Tehran, where the mullahs are getting ever closer to a nuclear weapon — and they won’t be convinced to give up their atomic ambitions because the U.S. is willing to cut is own arsenal. If anything, American concessions embolden Iran into thinking that we are a “weak horse” that can be defied with impunity.

Read Less

Peace in Our Time: Moscow

National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resumed START talks with the Russians in Moscow on Thursday. Remarkably, the negotiations are not backstopped by an existing treaty still in force. The old START treaty expired on December 5, 2009. The U.S. verification team left Russia’s ICBM production facility in Votkinsk the day the treaty expired; mutual agreement to other verification measures can no longer be assumed. As of January 2010, we have an agreement in principle by presidents Obama and Medvedev to reduce nuclear warheads, but we don’t have a binding treaty.

It’s hard to characterize this as anything but a step backward. Although the 2002 “SORT” Treaty remains in effect until 2012, it differs from START in containing no verification provisions. Russia has participated in it largely to acquire a bargaining position against Bush’s missile-defense plan for Europe; but Obama obviated that negotiating dynamic by renouncing Bush’s plan in September. With much now riding on the 2010 START negotiations, we bring few bargaining chips. The Russians have an incentive to keep us in talks because that will effectively suspend U.S. decisions about modernizing our nuclear forces, but they now have no incentive to make important concessions. Their demands, meanwhile, will be unpalatable to the U.S. Senate, which warned Obama in December that the ratification of a new treaty will be contingent on a plan for modernizing our forces.

The conditions are thus developing for an impasse in START negotiations. In the interim, we are without a functioning plan for strategic stability. With his September decision on the European missile site, Obama rejected the Bush concept of centering our global security on American national missile defense. The fallback position – the one the Russians continue to favor – is a rough balance of strategic nuclear forces; but the START treaty has expired. There is no basis for demanding compliance with it.

Instead of a plan, what we have at present is inertia. Trusting to inertia is always a risky policy, particularly when wild cards are already in the picture. China’s subtle policy shift on strategic stability last week is a change in conditions that will affect the relevance of a bilateral arms-reduction process just as much as it affects the postures of the START parties.

Obama isn’t to blame for all the conditions that have developed since 1991 – but he is accountable for abandoning our previous strategic-security policies without replacing them. His focus on reducing nuclear warheads is a noble goal, and by no means unrealistic. However, the uncompensated loss in 2009 of both the START treaty and our plan for a comprehensive national missile defense has proved that his focus is too narrow. With five nuclear-armed Asian powers and Iran trying to become the sixth, there is nothing America needs more than a comprehensive concept for strategic security. At the moment we don’t have one.

National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resumed START talks with the Russians in Moscow on Thursday. Remarkably, the negotiations are not backstopped by an existing treaty still in force. The old START treaty expired on December 5, 2009. The U.S. verification team left Russia’s ICBM production facility in Votkinsk the day the treaty expired; mutual agreement to other verification measures can no longer be assumed. As of January 2010, we have an agreement in principle by presidents Obama and Medvedev to reduce nuclear warheads, but we don’t have a binding treaty.

It’s hard to characterize this as anything but a step backward. Although the 2002 “SORT” Treaty remains in effect until 2012, it differs from START in containing no verification provisions. Russia has participated in it largely to acquire a bargaining position against Bush’s missile-defense plan for Europe; but Obama obviated that negotiating dynamic by renouncing Bush’s plan in September. With much now riding on the 2010 START negotiations, we bring few bargaining chips. The Russians have an incentive to keep us in talks because that will effectively suspend U.S. decisions about modernizing our nuclear forces, but they now have no incentive to make important concessions. Their demands, meanwhile, will be unpalatable to the U.S. Senate, which warned Obama in December that the ratification of a new treaty will be contingent on a plan for modernizing our forces.

The conditions are thus developing for an impasse in START negotiations. In the interim, we are without a functioning plan for strategic stability. With his September decision on the European missile site, Obama rejected the Bush concept of centering our global security on American national missile defense. The fallback position – the one the Russians continue to favor – is a rough balance of strategic nuclear forces; but the START treaty has expired. There is no basis for demanding compliance with it.

Instead of a plan, what we have at present is inertia. Trusting to inertia is always a risky policy, particularly when wild cards are already in the picture. China’s subtle policy shift on strategic stability last week is a change in conditions that will affect the relevance of a bilateral arms-reduction process just as much as it affects the postures of the START parties.

Obama isn’t to blame for all the conditions that have developed since 1991 – but he is accountable for abandoning our previous strategic-security policies without replacing them. His focus on reducing nuclear warheads is a noble goal, and by no means unrealistic. However, the uncompensated loss in 2009 of both the START treaty and our plan for a comprehensive national missile defense has proved that his focus is too narrow. With five nuclear-armed Asian powers and Iran trying to become the sixth, there is nothing America needs more than a comprehensive concept for strategic security. At the moment we don’t have one.

Read Less