The Illogic of START
Disarmament for us, proliferation for them.
2:17 PM, Apr 1, 2010 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
On March 26, President Obama announced that the United States had reached a new strategic arms agreement with Russia. He explained that the new nuclear-arms treaty strengthens “our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities.”
The timing of the Russian-American agreement, and Obama’s urgency in signing it next week in Prague, is directly linked to these global efforts. For come this May, nuclear non-proliferation will be the subject of a major international conference—a review of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—at which the new treaty will be held up for all to emulate.
And not only to emulate. The Obama administration believes that the NPT mandates that we take steps toward a world without nuclear weapons. “The basic bargain,” of the NPT, Obama declared a year ago in Prague, “is sound: Countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them.”
But the NPT has been in place for more than four decades. Has this bargain been kept? Here, by the Obama administration’s own remarkable accounting to the United Nations, is what the United States has done over the last several decades under Democratic and Republican presidents alike:
This is a formidable record and it raises a question of cardinal importance: Has the rest of the world kept its side of the NPT bargain? The answer is a resounding no. We stand today on the edge of the abyss of a new round of nuclear proliferation. In defiance of the NPT, North Korea has already tested nuclear devices. In defiance of the NPT, Iran is racing forward in the same direction. In permitting this to occur, the signatory states of the NPT have demonstrated a complete and total abdication of their basic responsibilities.
But none of this is enough to change minds. What we find instead is continued calls for the U.S. to disarm, as if the only thing driving nuclear proliferation is our failure to set an example. Here, for instance, is Strobe Talbott, Bill Clinton’s deputy secretary of state, explaining why Obama’s new START treaty is so important: “By demonstrating U.S. commitment to reduce its nuclear forces, it bolsters Washington’s credibility as it seeks to strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime at the NPT review conference in May.” A successful conference, continues Mr. Talbott, “puts greater impediments on the proliferation path that other nuclear aspirants might seek to follow.”
Hillary Clinton had drunk deeply from this particular gourd. The START treaty, she says, "shows the world—particularly states like Iran and North Korea—that one of our top priorities is to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime and keep nuclear materials out of the wrong hands."
“Words must mean something,” Barack Obama said memorably last year in Prague. Lewis Carroll has offered a far more memorable variation of that phrase:
The real “impediment” to nuclear proliferation is not the existence of U.S. forces. And a “successful conference” is not going to block tyrants who seek the most destructive weapons known to man—except, of course, by Humpty Dumpty’s definition of “successful.” Arms control is a looking-glass world in which words mean nothing at all, and neither do facts, especially when they are disturbing.