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Opinion

A 'New START' to an arms race between the US and Russia?

How European missile defense is blowing up the 'New START' nuclear weapons treaty, US relations with Russia, and possibly reigniting a cold-war arms race.

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The latest tests of both the ground-based and sea-based missile-defense systems have failed – and these are essentially rigged tests, where the intercept team knows the timing and trajectory of the incoming missile. NATO will have no such luxury in the real world, where its adversaries will surely also use countermeasures and decoys.

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And on the few occasions that the Missile Defense Agency has actually tested countermeasures, even these carefully rigged tests have never succeeded. Not once. Neither has the sea-based missile-defense system been tested in really rough sea conditions, and it is well-known to be unreliable beyond a certain sea state.

The importance of being able to handle countermeasures was recently underlined by the Pentagon’s own Defense Science Board, which says in its report, “If the defense should find itself in a situation where it is shooting at missile junk or decoys, the impact on the regional interceptor inventory would be dramatic and devastating!”

The report goes on to state that the sensors currently in place are inadequate for the missile defense mission: “...radars of much more substantial operating range than the current radar on Aegis ships will be necessary for the full realization of a robust regional defense.” And that, “[t]he current Aegis shipboard radar is inadequate to support the objective needs of the... mission.”  

In short, Washington has succeeded in alienating Russia over a missile-defense system that will provide an ineffective defense against Iran or North Korea.

Arms control treaties should not be ratified at any cost. It would have been wiser to have no New START treaty and no missile defense and no large funding increases for the nuclear-weapons complex, than having all three as we now do. In fact, signing such treaties casts Russia as an adversary and there are some sound arguments to avoid such neo-cold-war treaties in the future. The data-exchange and transparency measures could have been negotiated without a formal treaty – and without the domestic ransom.

There is no pressing need to involve Russia bilaterally in future arms reductions. In fact, the chief of the Strategic Plans and Policy Division of the Air Force has indicated that US nuclear-deterrent needs can safely be met by just 311 nuclear weapons. We ought to go to that number right away, and let Russia do whatever it wants. If Moscow wants to waste money on the upkeep of thousands of useless nuclear weapons, that’s its problem.

Russia is not our enemy – let’s stop treating it like one.

Dr. Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, serves as a scientific consultant for the Federation of American Scientists.

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