Heritage’s Foundry blog urges the Senate to “avoid rubberstamping” the New START treaty, on which the Foreign Relations Committee begins official deliberations today. Author Conn Carroll is right that the treaty’s disadvantages for U.S. missile-defense development are its most problematic features. If we look deeper into the character of the relative situation the Russians hope to solidify, moreover, we must feel ourselves to be back in about 1970.
New START is a bad deal that helps the Russians and hobbles the U.S. The bad deal begins with the constraints on our missile-defense development. In a relative missile stasis — if we and the Russians merely maintained the missiles we have — this would be bad enough. But the Russians aren’t going to merely maintain the missiles they have. Unlike us, they have been developing new classes of ballistic missiles and fielding them in their forces. They will not have more missiles as their modernization program proceeds, but they will have better ones. And a key thing that’s better about the showpiece missile in Russia’s new inventory, the Topol-M ICBM (NATO designation SS-27), is that it’s designed to evade existing U.S. missile defenses.
Russian claims that the Topol-M will penetrate our national missile defense (NMD) 87 percent of the time are not unrealistic. We have focused NMD development for nearly 20 years on the less-challenging third-party threat from nations like North Korea or Iran. With that choice, we made it an easier task for the Russians to design an ICBM that can outperform our current defenses. They are confident they have succeeded in doing so.
But as this 2007 analysis indicates, the Russians have been able to introduce the Topol-M only slowly, due to cash constraints. They have faced a real prospect of seeing their older ICBMs reach the end of their service life without replacement. The greatest advantage they can wangle in treaty negotiations, therefore, is a reduction in U.S. launchers that is not matched by a requirement for Russian reductions, combined with constraints on the U.S. missile-defense program. It gives them financial breathing room to redress their perceived shortfall through U.S. cuts rather than Russian expenditures — as long as they’re confident that we have effectively committed to refrain from defending ourselves against the newer missiles.
New START gives them precisely those advantages. Meanwhile, in the three years since the 2007 report, Russia has deployed its new mobile Topol-M launchers and introduced the upgraded, multi-warhead Topol-M (RS-24) to the operating forces. Punctuating the sense of a reversion to Cold War-era patterns, the Topol-M was paraded through Moscow with great fanfare in this year’s World War II Victory Day parade. Out in the Russian submarine fleet, the Sineva ballistic missile (NATO: upgraded SS-N-23) entered service in 2007, equipped with 10 MIRVed warheads per missile instead of the previous four.
Russia is not a partner in eliminating nuclear weapons. Russia’s basic purpose has not changed in 50 years: to hold the West at risk with nuclear weapons and to use arms negotiations to gain effective U.S. concurrence with that objective. New START — a Russian triumph in principle over Reagan’s SDI concept — is laughably misnamed. It’s nothing new. It merely resurrects the old, pre-START dynamic in which Moscow relied on Americans to hobble themselves.