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November 22, 2011

Swing and Miss: Mitt Romney and New START
Posted by The Editors

New STARTThis piece is by Timothy Westmyer, an M.A. candidate at Georgetown University. Views expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and not necessarily reflective of the views of any organization or institution with which he is affiliated.

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy message centers on his promise to “never, ever apologize.” That is unfortunate, because he owes the American public an apology for his false predictions on New START.

The former Massachusetts governor took to The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page earlier this month to recycle complaints about New START he first aired in a July 2010 op-ed Fred Kaplan called the most “shabby,” “misleading,” and “thoroughly ignorant” editorial he has read in 35 years. Today, we can add one more modifier to that list: proven wrong.

New START entered into force on February 5, 2011 and is already a success. Rose Gottemoeller, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, called the treaty a “bright spot in the U.S.-Russian relationship.” Russian cooperation with tougher sanctions on Iran and North Korea, overland transportation routes to Afghanistan, and cancelling the sale of advanced air defense systems to Iran are just some of the national security benefits made possible by the “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations. 

The U.S. military would beg to differ with Governor Romney’s view that President Obama got “virtually nothing in return” for New START. On-site inspections and data exchanges to verify New START have already begun. The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen, testified in favor of prompt ratification to restore the ability to monitor the Russian arsenal that was lost with the expiration of START I. A detailed picture of the Russian strategic force has since emerged – including viewing the new Russian RS-24 missile – which lets U.S. defense planners develop plans and budgets with a more accurate threat assessment. 

New START placed no major limitation on U.S. missile defense plans. Romney wrote that the treaty’s preamble was proof that Russian negotiators shackled U.S. flexibility on missile defense. The preamble merely highlights an obvious link between offensive and defense weapon systems. Even if Romney’s reading was correct, a treaty’s preamble is nonbinding. It has about as much legal obligation as a fortune cookie. 

The Obama administration is going full steam ahead with the Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in Europe. Initial tests in September successfully demonstrated that the infrastructure would be able to defend America’s allies in Europe from ballistic missile threats in the Middle East. Spain recently joined the Netherlands, Romania, Turkey and Poland as hosts for key elements of the system. This momentum should put to rest any concerns about restrained U.S. flexibility.

Romney speculated that New START’s Bilateral Consultative Commission would use its “broad latitude to amend the treaty with specific references to missile defense.” Unsurprisingly there were no end-runs on missile defense at the commission’s inaugural meeting this spring. On the contrary, Gottemoeller suggests that the Treaty’s implementation has been a “pragmatic, business-like and positive” experience for all parties.

The Russians are wary of future U.S. missile defense plans, but the Obama administration has initiated a dialogue over their concerns. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher visited Moscow earlier this month to reassure Russia that the system is not directed at the Russian nuclear deterrent. The missile defense system, Tauscher said, “would only chase the tail of a Russian ICBM or SLBM.”

The new bipartisan consensus that nuclear weapons play a shrinking role in defense puts Governor Romney outside the foreign policy mainstream. In a 2007 op-ed by George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn, these statesmen encourage leaders to eliminate Cold War era nuclear arsenals and prioritize efforts to keep nuclear material out of the hands of terrorists. In a major foreign policy speech he delivered last month, Romney remarkably overlooked the threat of nuclear terrorism.

The next president must not turn the “reset” in U.S-Russian relations into a “relapse.” In a White Paper released last month, Romney doubled down on his mistaken predictions and promised, as president, to “review the implementation of New START” to “determine whether [it serves] the best interests and security of the United States.” Abandoning New START and future reductions would only encourage Russia to build new weapons, decreasing American security.

Whether or not Governor Romney becomes the GOP presidential nominee, his disproven claims about New START will continue to resurface, as seen in his recent warnings about the need to “prepare for war” with Iran. Pundits and voters would be wise to remember these false predictions. The next time Mitt Romney tells you it is going to rain, think again before grabbing an umbrella.

Photo: White House

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Mitt Romney, in striking contrast to Rick Perry, reads his briefing books and debates. He isn't a “natural” at that like Ronald Reagan.

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