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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let national security, not politics, guide decision on START

Guest Commentary

As those whose career has been dedicated to our nation’s defense – including responsibility for all U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles, overseeing Marine Aviation and the Marine Corps budget creation and execution, and as the U.S. deputy military representative to NATO – we take very seriously the idea that national security should be above political partisanship.

Unfortunately, there has been an increasing push to make a treaty designed to provide stabilization to our strategic nuclear forces, vital intelligence and verification, as well as a modest reduction in those nuclear weapons, into a political issue. Senators should resist that push, stick to the facts and ratify the treaty.

Here are the facts.

The New START Treaty will make our country safer by implementing a new dedicated verification regime that will allow U.S. inspectors to monitor Russia’s nuclear arsenal, it will allow our own forces to plan and resource for the weapons we need for the 21st century, and it will allow us to move forward to deal with further proliferation issues and tactical nuclear weapons.

The treaty has the unanimous support of our nation’s military leadership. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are just a few of the military leaders who have testified in favor of the treaty before the Senate.

Prominent former security officials from Republican administrations have also testified in support of the treaty, including former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, former Secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger, and former National Security Advisors Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley.

In a recent show of bipartisan support, 30 high-level national security experts – Democrats and Republicans alike – published an open letter in support of the treaty, including Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Frank Carlucci, Chuck Hagel and John Danforth.

There are a lot of myths floating around about what the treaty does or does not do. Perhaps the biggest of these is that the treaty limits our missile defense plans.

This is simply untrue. Gates and Mullen have repeatedly testified that the treaty does not limit missile defense. So has the man in charge of our nation’s Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly.

Scowcroft, in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, attributed claims that the treaty limits missile defense to “domestic politics” and concluded: “I don’t think there’s substance to this argument.”

Here’s another fact: Rejecting this treaty will have severe negative consequences for our national security. Not only will all formal constraints on Russia’s nuclear arsenal be lost, but so will the verification regime.

That means we will lose our decades-old ability to keep tabs on the size and nature of Russia’s nuclear arsenal through monitoring and inspections. Rejecting the treaty is akin to rejecting President Ronald Reagan’s famous reminder that we should “trust, but verify.” We will be left blind.

The risk posed by this possibility prompted Gen. Kevin Chilton, STRATCOM commander, to warn the Senate Foreign Relation Committee: “If we don’t get the treaty, [the Russians] are not constrained in their development of force structure and … we have no insight into what they’re doing. So it’s the worst of both possible worlds.”

It is still not clear if the treaty has the required 67 votes in the Senate for ratification. This is an issue we can’t afford to allow to become politicized.

We hope Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who has not yet indicated how he will vote, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who has spoken out in favor of the treaty, will not be swayed by those who would attempt to put politics before national security and that they heed the advice of our nation’s military leadership and the collective wisdom of security experts from Republican and Democratic administrations.

We hope they will vote in favor of the ratification of the New START Treaty.

Perhaps Gates said it best: “For nearly 40 years, treaties to limit or reduce nuclear weapons have been approved by the U.S. Senate by strong bipartisan majorities. This treaty deserves a similar reception and result – on account of the dangerous weapons it reduces, the critical defense capabilities it preserves, the strategic stability it maintains, and, above all, the security it provides to the American people.”

Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, Lt. Gen. Dirk Jameson and Brig. Gen. John Adams are members of Consensus for American Security, a nonpartisan group of security experts committed to speak out on the most critical nuclear security threats facing Americans today and what we will face tomorrow.