On Pundits, Politicians, and Listening to the Experts

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testifies at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) on June 17, 2010. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

An interesting guest column appeared in today’s Des Moines Register, written by the current Physicians for Social Responsibility Board President. Here’s his main point:

In a world where uninformed opinions are too often passed off as information, sometimes the best prescription is to listen to the experts. Here’s hoping that senators heed the advice of the national security experts in our military leadership and follow the long tradition of putting national security before partisan politics on arms control. Ratifying the New START treaty really should be a “no brainer.”

So what’s he talking about?

I thought it might be useful to round up what some of the experts and military leaders have said during the most recent New START hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Testimony

On Wednesday, June 16, 2010, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from General Kevin P. Chilton, USAF, Commander of United States Strategic Command, as well as Lieutenant General Patrick J. O’Reilly, who is Director of the Missile Defense Agency.

Here are some excerpts from the transcript.

Let’s start with an overview, from Gen. Chilton:

General Kevin Chilton: “I was fully consulted during the treaty negotiation process and I support ratification of New START. … [O]ur nation will be safer and more secure with this treaty than without it…”

“…[I]f we don’t get this treaty, (A) [the Russians] are not constrained in their development of force structure; and (B) we have no insight into what they’re doing. So it’s the worst of both possible worlds.”

Testimony that New START does not hinder our missile defense program:

Senator John Kerry: “So in your judgment, will this treaty prevent the MDA from pursuing any aspect of the phased adaptive approach to missile defense in Europe that the administration has outlined?”

General Patrick O’Reilly: “No, sir, it will not prevent or affect in any way our plans.”

General O’Reilly: “Throughout the treaty negotiations, I frequently consulted with the New START team on all potential impacts to missile defense. The New START does not constrain our plans to execute the missile defense program.”

General O’Reilly: “I do not see any limitation on my ability to develop missile defenses.”

General Chilton: “As the combatant command also responsible for synchronizing global missile defense plans, operations and advocacy, this treaty does not constrain any current missile defense plans.”

General O’Reilly: “Although Article V of the New START prohibits the conversion of ICBM or submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers to missile defense launchers while grandfathering five former ICBM silos already converted for launching ground-based interceptors, MDA has never had a plan to convert additional ICBM silos. … [F]rom a technical basis, and being responsible for the development of our missile defenses, I would say that either one of those approaches of replacing ICBMs with ground- based interceptors or adapting the submarine-launched ballistic missiles to be an interceptor, would actually be a setback—a major setback—to the development of our missile defenses.”

Significantly, O’Reilly points out that New START helps our missile defense program:

General O’Reilly: “Under New START the Trident-1 missile is not accountable so we will have greater flexibility in using it as a missile defense test target with regards to launcher locations, telemetry collection and data processing, thus allowing more efficient test architectures and operationally realistic intercept geometries.”

General O’Reilly: “[F]or one thing, the treaty actually, in Article III, excludes interceptor development, which is the mainstay of our missile defense. So it explicitly addresses the fact that development of our interceptors is not covered under this treaty. Second of all…the previous treaty limited our ability to encrypt our information from our targets in flight testing. And what we do not want to do is share in broad, open forums our data as it’s coming off our flight tests.”

Without New START, there is no verification:

General Chilton: “Senator, [if New START is not ratified] we would have no verification regime because there is none under the Moscow Treaty. And of course, START I has expired. And so I think that’s a significant point—that we would lose any transparency or a right to inspect the Russian force structure, and I think that’s important that we have that visibility into their forces.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Testimony

The Senate Armed Services committee received testimony on New START yesterday, June 17, 2010. Testifying were Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu. Here are some excerpts from the hearing.

Secretary of Defense Gates, on missile defense, verification, and New START in general (bold emphasis mine):

First, the treaty will not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible, nor impose additional costs or barriers on those defenses. I remain confident in the U.S. missile defense program, which has made considerable advancements, including the testing and development of the SM-3 missile, which we will deploy in Europe.

In my view, a key contribution of this treaty is its provision for a strong verification regime.

I would close with a final observation. I first began working on strategic arms control with the Russians in 1970, 40 years ago, a U.S. effort that led to the first strategic arms limitation agreement with Moscow two years later. The key question then and in the decades since has always been the same: is the United States better off with a strategic arms agreement with the Russians, or without it? The answer for successive presidents of both parties has always been, with an agreement. The U.S. Senate has always agreed, approving each treaty by lopsided bipartisan margins.

The same answer holds true for New START. The U.S. is better off with this treaty than without it, and I am confident that it is the right agreement for today and for the future. It increases stability and predictability, allows us to sustain a strong nuclear triad, and preserves our flexibility to deploy the nuclear and non-nuclear capabilities needed for effective deterrence and defense.

In light of all these factors, I urge the Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification on the new treaty.

Admiral Mike Mullen, on military support for the treaty, and its role in our national security:

This treaty has the full support of your uniformed military. Throughout its negotiation, Secretaries Clinton and Gates ensured that professional military perspectives were thoroughly considered…

… In summary, this New START agreement is important in itself, and should also be viewed in wider context. It makes meaningful reductions in the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals while strengthening strategic stability and U.S. national security. Coupled with the administration’s clear commitment to prudently invest in our aging nuclear infrastructure and in nuclear warhead life extension programs, this treaty is a very meaningful step forward. I encourage the Senate to fully study the treaty. I believe you will see the wisdom of ratifying it, and I sit before you today recommending that you do so.

Secretary of State Clinton on New START and its critical role in verification:

I know that some argue we don’t need the New START Treaty. But let’s be clear about the choice before us. It is between this treaty and no legal obligation for Russia to keep its strategic nuclear forces below an agreed level, and between this treaty and no on-the-ground verification of Russia’s strategic forces.

Secretary Clinton also brings up the issue of modernization:

[T]he New START Treaty does not restrict our ability to modernize our nuclear weapons complex to maintain a safe, secure, and effective deterrent. As Secretary Chu will discuss, this Administration has called for a 10-percent increase in FY 11 for overall weapons and infrastructure activities, and a 25-percent increase in direct stockpile work. During the next ten years, this Administration proposes investing $80 billion in our nuclear weapons complex.

So, going back to the original question: to whom will our Senators listen? Will they take the advice of Secretary of Defense Gates, who has multiple decades of experience in these matters, or will they listen to pundits, vaguely sourced rumors … or worse, to each other? (See: Sen. DeMint rambling about “the Soviets”, in the June 16 hearing.)

Hopefully they’ll take into account the testimony given during all of these hearings, and put politics aside in the interest of national security and international stability.

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