Readers know that I like arguments. Senator Lugar has been making a very good argument about New START and so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons, which are not covered by any strategic arms reduction treaty.
Opponents, like Governor Romney, have pointed to Russia’s large stockpile of such weapons as a reason to resist ratifying the New START agreement.
I find this a bizarre objection for a very simple reason expressed by Senator Lugar, most recently in his response to Mitt Romney’s oped that I mentioned the other day:
Do you think rejecting New START would make a further US-Russia agreement on “tactical” nuclear weapons more or less likely?
The answer is obvious: if our goal is to secure an agreement with Russia that would cover all classes of nuclear weapons, ratifying the New START agreement is a necessary step. Here is how Senator Lugar makes the argument:
Governor Romney also cites Russia’s stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons as a reason to oppose New START. Russia does have more tactical weapons than we do, but he distorts their value by implying that they constitute a serious missile threat to Europe. In fact, most of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons either have very short ranges, are used for homeland air defense, are devoted to the Chinese border, or are in storage. He also ignores that our NATO allies have endorsed the New START Treaty. A Russian attack on NATO countries is effectively deterred by NATO conventional superiority, our own tactical nuclear forces, French and British nuclear arsenals, and U.S. strategic forces. An agreement with Russia that reduced, accounted for, and improved security around tactical nuclear arsenals is in the interest of both nations. But these weapons do not compromise our strategic deterrent.
Rejecting the Treaty would guarantee that no agreement on tactical nukes would occur.
I have some specific ideas on how to manage Russia’s stockpile of “tactical” nuclear weapons, but for now I think Lugar’s point is sufficient: If we seek new negotiations with Russia, we have to ratify the treaties we’ve already negotiated. First things first.
The full text of Lugar’s statement is in the comments.