Are critics following the news?
Among the objections to the New START treaty, few are uttered with more gravity than the claim that U.S. nuclear reductions will make our allies question their own safety, and perhaps seek nuclear weapons of their own. However, opponents of the treaty have not offered a credible example of such a nervous ally. Opponents of Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review made similar arguments, claiming that changes in U.S. declaratory policy could lead to dangerous steps by Japan or other allies. Those claims were just as baseless as the current ones.
For example, regarding the reductions under New START, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said in a May 13th talk at a National Defense University Foundation breakfast, “I think there are indications that nations are nervous about where we are heading and they’re asking themselves, well maybe we need to have our own [nuclear weapons].” Notably, he gave no indication of which countries he might mean.
What, in fact, have our allies and others said? The NPT Review Conference currently underway in New York has given countries an opportunity to sound off on nuclear issues. Their statements contain a treasure trove of endorsements for New START. UCS has compiled an extensive list of these endorsements, from Australia to Zambia. The message from our allies – and the rest of the world – is clear: New START would make the world safer by advancing the global nonproliferation agenda.
When treaty critics refer to countries that might object, who do they name? One is Japan, which has a longstanding commitment to forsake nuclear weapons, something some U.S. politicians have argued could change should the United States adjust its nuclear policies. In a recent Washington Times article, John Bolton singles out our Asian ally, claiming that its “concerns were especially acute” about recent U.S. nuclear policies, including the Nuclear Posture Review and New START. I’m not sure who in Japan John Bolton has been talking to, but it certainly wasn’t the Prime Minister, who stated in the aftermath of the treaty signing that “it’s great news for the world” and urged the U.S. and Russia to “ratify it soon.” And it probably wasn’t any of the 204 members of Japan’s parliament who sent a letter to Obama in February stating “We support your efforts to conclude a new START agreement with Russia mandating significant reductions in each country’s deployed strategic forces.” In reality, Japan’s status as the only victim of nuclear attack has made it a consistent advocate of disarmament.
Bolton also brings up the countries of NATO, an alliance that has historically based its security on the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Many NATO countries, including Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands—countries that actually host U.S. tactical nuclear weapons—have called for the United States to withdraw them. As this would go much further than New START does, it is little surprise that these Western European countries fully support the treaty.
But what about Eastern Europe, which obviously has a complicated history with Russia? Here again our allies express clear support. In a statement at the UN, the Polish representative applauded the treaty, saying that “It is…an important instrument in building confidence and achieving transparency, thus contributing to international stability and security.” Lithuania “welcomes” the agreement, the Czech Republic recognized its “important cuts,” and Bulgaria called it a “remarkable achievement.” Would we be hearing such widespread support for the treaty if it was making our allies quake in their boots?
The ambiguity of the claim that New START will spook US allies only conceals its implausibility. Can anyone imagine a scenario in which the U.S. arsenal of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads—enough to lay waste to most of the world—along with thousands of additional non-deployed warheads, would be insufficient? Would New START have the unanimous backing of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs, and other military experts if it undermined our security?