Arms Control

Nonsense about New START and ICBMs

Because of what appears to have been a computer glitch, a group of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) was temporarily off-line last week and not ready to launch on a moment’s notice. According to an article in The Atlantic, some Republicans have suggested that this means that New START, the nuclear arms control treaty awaiting Senate ratification, is unwise and should be rejected. This assertion is nonsense but is a useful illustration of how much of current nuclear “thinking” is just a holdover from now irrelevant Cold War doctrine.

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New START and Missile Defense

I have not written here on the New START treaty, in part because everything that can be said has been said, well, almost everything…see below.  The treaty is in no way revolutionary.  I don’t think Reagan would bat an eyelash at it.  Yet, while there is widespread bipartisan support for the treaty, including almost all the leading defense specialists from former Republican administrations, there is also some opposition to the treaty, with the Heritage Foundation having taken it on as a cause.  Some of the critiques are truly bizarre, such as the treaty does not address Russian tactical nuclear weapons or North Korea.  (On that last point, would one of the critics please sketch out how we would have included North Korea in the negotiation?)  Of course, no past arms control treaty has ever covered every type of weapon and if New START is not ratified then any chance of negotiating limits on tactical nuclear weapons is off the table completely.  (The treaty does not cure world hunger either, another good cause.) The one issue that opponents consistently latch onto is the supposed limits on missile defense.  There is language in the preamble drawing attention to the connection between offensive and defensive missiles and in the text there is a limit on converting offensive missile launchers to be able to launch defensive missiles.  Administration spokesmen have addressed these criticisms by saying the preamble language is not binding.  I find it very strange that advocates of missile defense would like to argue that there is no connection between offensive and defensive missiles. Of course there is a connection between the two of them.  Isn’t one supposed to shoot down the other?  Isn’t that a connection? It is like arguing there is no connection between ships and torpedoes.  (I think the connection is actually quite weak because defensive missiles probably cannot shoot much down, but that is a different story.)  Simply saying that doesn’t seem to change much.

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