Mitt Writes An Op-Ed

Mitt Romney in WaPo:

Given President Obama’s glaring domestic policy missteps, it is understandable that the public has largely been blinded to his foreign policy failings. In fact, these may have been even more damaging to America’s future. He fought to reinstate Honduras’s pro-Chávez president while stalling Colombia’s favored-trade status. He castigated Israel at the United Nations but was silent about Hamas having launched 7,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip. His policy of “engagement” with rogue nations has been met with North Korean nuclear tests, missile launches and the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, while Iran has accelerated its nuclear program, funded terrorists and armed Hezbollah with long-range missiles. He acceded to Russia’s No. 1 foreign policy objective, the abandonment of our Europe-based missile defense program, and obtained nothing whatsoever in return.

Despite all of this, the president’s New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New-START) with Russia could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet. The treaty as submitted to the Senate should not be ratified.

New-START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferating rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Its preamble links strategic defense with strategic arsenal. It explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites. And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty if it believes that the United States has significantly increased its missile defense capability.

Hence, to preserve the treaty’s restrictions on Russia, America must effectively get Russia’s permission for any missile defense expansion. Moscow’s vehemence over our modest plans in Eastern Europe demonstrate that such permission would be extremely unlikely.

The treaty empowers a Bilateral Consultative Commission with broad latitude to amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense. New START does something the American public would never countenance and the Senate should never permit: It jeopardizes our missile defense system.

The treaty also gives far more to the Russians than to the United States. As drafted, it lets Russia escape the limit on its number of strategic nuclear warheads. Loopholes and lapses — presumably carefully crafted by Moscow — provide a path to entirely avoid the advertised warhead-reduction targets. For example, rail-based ICBMs and launchers are not mentioned. Similarly, multiple nuclear warheads that are mounted on bombers are effectively not counted. Unlike past treaty restrictions, ICBMs are not prohibited from bombers. This means that Russia is free to mount a nearly unlimited number of ICBMs on bombers — including MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) or multiple warheads — without tripping the treaty’s limits. These omissions would be consistent with Russia’s plans for a new heavy bomber and reports of growing interest in rail-mobile ICBMs.

Under New START, the United States must drastically reduce our number of launchers but Russia will not — it already has fewer launchers than the treaty limits. Put another way: We give, Russia gets. And more troubling, the treaty fails to apply the MIRV limits that were part of the prior START treaty. Again, it may not be coincidental that Russia is developing a new heavy-load — meaning MIRV-capable — ICBM.

New-START gives Russia a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States. The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1. Obama heralds a reduction in strategic weapons from approximately 2,200 to 1,550 but fails to mention that Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured? Astonishingly, while excusing tactical nukes from the treaty, the Obama administration bows to Russia’s insistence that conventional weapons mounted on ICBMs are counted under the treaty’s warhead and launcher limits.

By all indications, the Obama administration has been badly out-negotiated. Perhaps the president’s eagerness for global disarmament led his team to accede to Russia’s demands, or perhaps it led to a document that was less than carefully drafted.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

You can find The Heritage Foundation’s work on the treaty here, including The New START Working Group’s Independent Assessment of New START.

Dan Riehl:

Mitt Romney goes after Obama on foreign policy in the Washington Post. He’s correct on START as negotiated being a non-starter. That was clear a month or two ago when the negotiations wrapped up.

What I find more interesting is the politics Romney is pursuing. He’s been playing the usual game for a potential 2012 nominee. Raising money, campaigning for candidates in this or that race. Mostly pure establishment stuff that builds a network, but does less to stay engaged with the base.

So, today it’s time for Romney to show some foreign policy chops and engage the masses. And as politicians have done for decades, he takes to the Post. Of course, he could have simply posted to a Facebook page. But that wouldn’t be good establishment politics. And Romney’s establishment rep could be one of his biggest obstacles assuming he’s serious about 2012. In a new media and political world, Romney looks decidedly old, though I did support him in 2008.

Marc Ambinder:

Unlike other potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney does not approach every potential political target as if he were carrying a machine gun on hair trigger alert.

That has allowed him to stay quiet when fellow Republicans try to outshout each other.  Romney has stuck a few core issues, like the economy and foreign policy. He mostly avoided the health care debate, if only to try and minimize the comparisons Republicans made to his 2006 health care law. On social issues, he’s kept mum. If he decides to run for president, it will be in the mold of a conservative pragmatist grounded in American exceptionalism, a topic that has fascinated Romney for years.  Mr. Romney subscribes to the point of view that a strong America is not an America that humbles itself; that Obama’s penchant for finding non zero sum opportunities in the post 9-11 world is naive.  Romney is not a native speaker of this language, but he has surrounded himself with advisers who speak nothing else.

When Romney does choose to intervene in the political debate, it is often with great care. His op-ed in this morning’s New York Post uses some of his starkest language to date, calling Obama’s START treaty with Russia his “worst foreign policy mistake yet.”  Does he believe opposition to Senate ratification is a political winner?  As the privately acknowledged “invisible primary” frontrunner, is he attempting to use what leverage he has to make sure that his party does not capitulate on this issue, depriving him of the chance to draw a clear contrast with Obama?  Or does he see this as an opportunity to burnish his foreign policy chops ahead of 2012? (I’ll have a post later that goes into the substance of his op-ed.)

Daniel Larison here and here. Larison:

How many dishonest and misleading things can Mitt Romney pack into one op-ed? There are a few. Romney’s first lie was remarkably brazen even for him:

He [Obama] castigated Israel at the United Nations but was silent about Hamas having launched 7,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Neither of these things happened. One will look in vain for any speech Obama has ever given in which he actually castigated Israel, but it is even more certain that he never did this at the U.N. Castigate means censure, and if there is one thing Obama has never done it is censure Israel. The only thing Obama has been silent about with regard to Gaza was the excessive military operations Israel launched there immediately before he took office. A couple sentences later, Romney lies about missile defense in Europe:

He acceded to Russia’s No. 1 foreign policy objective, the abandonment of our Europe-based missile defense program, and obtained nothing whatsoever in return.

The missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic were scrapped, and they have since been replaced by proposed new installations in southeastern Europe. Unlike the previous plan, which guarded against non-existent Iranian ICBMs, this one could theoretically defend against medium-range missiles that Iran actually has. So missile defense in Europe has not been abandoned, and despite what Moscow may say the Prague treaty apparently does not rule out missile defense, either, so Romney is complaining about something that hasn’t happened.

Romney repeats a common misrepresentation of the Prague treaty, which is that it “impedes missile defense.” Dr. Jeffrey Lewis had a very useful review of the relevant parts of the new treaty that he wrote earlier this year, and his conclusion is worth citing here:

I think it is very hard to conclude that the treaty “limits” missile defenses. The treaty may have some implications for missile defense programs, but on the whole it is written in such a way as to create space for current and planned missile defense programs, including language that exempts interceptors from the definition of an ICBM [bold mine-DL] and the provision to “grandfather” the converted silos at Vandenberg.

Still, I suspect we will continue hear from some quarters that the treaty “limits” missile defense. This is a form of special pleading. The common-sense test is that no one would claim that the treaty “limits” conventional bombers, despite some provisions to separate conventional bombers from their nuclear-equipped brethren. By any consistent standard, the treaty limits neither.

As for Romney’s objection that the treaty “explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites,” Dr. Lewis makes what seems like a very sensible observation:

The advantages of this are obvious: otherwise, you would have Russian inspectors crawling all over US missile defense interceptors to ensure they weren’t stocked with contraband treaty-limited equipment.

In other words, this is something that seems like a concession but which could actually aid the development of missile defense.

Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb recently wrote an op-ed in support of the treaty that addressed the missile defense question:

While some have alleged that the New START treaty will inhibit missile defense, this claim has been strongly refuted by Republican elder statesmen in their Senate testimony on the treaty. Former Secretary of State James Baker stated plainly, “There is, in fact, no restriction on the United States of America’s ability to move forward on missile defense in whatever way it wants.” Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft was equally direct, testifying, “The treaty is amply clear, it does not restrict us … I don’t think there’s substance to this argument.”

In fact, Baker and Scowcroft are joined in supporting the treaty by almost every senior Republican national security leader from the past three decades, including Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Schlesinger, George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and the Senate’s foremost current expert on nuclear policy, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana. They are joined by leading Democratic national security leaders, such as former Defense Secretary William Perry and former senator Nunn.

Romney’s other objections are more technical, but they don’t appear to be much better. One of the standard objections to the new treaty has been that warhead reduction could do Russia a favor, because Russia does not want the expense of maintaining such a large arsenal, but Romney claims instead that loopholes in the treaty will permit a Russian build-up of warheads. For Romney’s objections to mean very much, one would have to believe that Russia is intent on a massive arms build-up and is looking for some means to achieve this without formally violating arms control agreements. In fact, the more substantive criticism that advocates of disarmament could make against the treaty is that there are not going to be many reductions at all on either side, and the loopholes in the treaty will permit both governments to maintain their arsenals near their current levels:

Due to the loophole, the United States could avoid counting roughly 450 of its 2,100 presently deployed warheads, while around 860 weapons in Russia’s 2,600-warhead arsenal would not be counted, Kristensen said. As a result, the United States would only need to place 100 deployed warheads in storage and Russia would only need to remove 190 weapons.

It is therefore quite difficult to credit Romney’s claim that “New-START gives Russia a massive nuclear weapon advantage over the United States.” Were that to happen, the same withdrawal provision in Article XIV of the treaty that Russia could exercise could also be exercised by the United States. If we view the Prague treaty as a beginning rather than a dramatic accomplishment on its own, we could then build on it to negotiate reductions in tactical nuclear weapons. Rejecting the treaty because it has not solved every arms reduction problem in one move is just the sort of short-sighted opportunism we have come to expect from Romney and other leading Republicans when it comes to important matters of U.S. foreign policy.

Fred Kaplan at Slate:

Let’s take his rant—critique is too serious a word—line by line.

“New-START impedes missile defense, our protection from nuclear-proliferation rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Its preamble links strategic defense with strategic arsenal.”

Aside from the bad grammar and the suggestion that Romney’s ghostwriter was taking dictation over a poor phone line (he should have written “links strategic defense with strategic offense,” not “strategic arsenal,” which makes no sense), the first sentence is false, and the second is irrelevant.

There is nothing in the treaty that places any limits on the U.S. missile-defense program. (And several generals, many with a vested interest in the program, have so testified before the Senate foreign relations and armed services committees.)

Yes, the treaty’s preamble notes that there is a relationship between strategic defense and strategic offense. This is Arms Control 101. If both sides drastically reduce their offensive nuclear weapons, while one side greatly builds up its defensive weapons, then that side could (theoretically) launch a disarming first strike and, moments later, shoot down what’s left of the other side’s missiles as they’re launched in retaliation. The essence of nuclear deterrence—and strategic stability—is to maintain the ability to retaliate in kind to a first strike. Very small offensive forces, combined with very large defensive forces, erode deterrence and create a “destabilizing” situation.

However, we are far from this state of affairs. New START leaves each side with 1,550 nuclear warheads; the Pentagon’s missile-defense program envisions a few dozen anti-missile interceptors.

More to the point, as is the case with all treaties, preambles are not legally binding. In response to the Russians’ unilateral statement, President Obama’s negotiators added one of their own, noting that U.S. missile defenses “are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia,” but rather to defend against “limited missile launches” by “regional threats” and, to that end, the United States will continue “improving and deploying” its missile-defense systems.

“[New START] explicitly forbids the United States from converting intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos into missile defense sites.”

That’s right. But Romney doesn’t note that the managers of the missile-defense program say, privately and publicly, that they have no plan—and see no advantage—in doing this sort of conversion.

“And Russia has expressly reserved the right to walk away from the treaty if it believes that the United States has significantly increased its missile defense capability.”

This is true, but, as is the case with all treaties, Russia and the United States expressly reserve the right to withdraw for any reason if they believe it endangers their “supreme interests.” President George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Treaty under such a clause. Any president, Russian or American, can pull out of this treaty, too, with three months’ notice. (See Article XIV, Section 3.)

However, the Russians would have to consider the following: If they did withdraw from the treaty, that would probably aggravate tensions to the point where the United States would probably accelerate missile-defense deployments and perhaps resume an offensive arms buildup, too—a resumption that we can afford a lot more than they can.

“The treaty empowers a Bilateral Consultative Commission with broad latitude to amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense.

This is silly. Previous arms treaties—negotiated by Democrats and Republicans—have created similar commissions. This one, like the others, has no “broad latitude to amend the treaty.” In fact, Article XV of New START states explicitly that the commission can make no changes that affect “substantive rights and obligations.” Its purpose, as noted in several other sections (Articles V and XIII of the treaty, Part VI of its protocol), is to “resolve any ambiguities that may arise” over the 10 years that it remains in effect. These articles contain no “specific reference to missile defense,” by the way.

“The treaty also gives far more to the Russians than to the United States. As drafted, it lets Russia escape the limit on its number of strategic nuclear warheads.”

Again, there might have been some static on the phone line. The treaty does let Russia get by without cutting any of its strategic “delivery vehicles” (missiles and bombers). Each side is limited to 700, but Russia right now has only 600; the United States has 850, so it will have to cut back a little. However, both sides will have to reduce their warheads—the actual nuclear weapons—to 1,550. And, for what it’s worth, Russia, which now has 2,787 warheads, will have to cut back more than the United States, which now has 2,252.

“For example, rail-based ICBMs and launchers are not mentioned.”

First, neither Russia nor the United States has any rail-based ICBMs or launchers. Second, the treaty does deal with mobile ICBMs, in two ways. Article IV, Section 1 states that ICBMs can be deployed “only at ICBM bases.” If, in some perverse wordplay, the Russians claim that a railroad line is a “base,” Article III, Section 5b notes that an ICBM is counted under the treaty’s limits the moment it leaves the production facility (which other sections of the treaty place under constant monitoring); it doesn’t matter where the missile goes afterward, it’s still counted as an ICBM. So while mobile missiles might not be “mentioned” by the treaty, they are, in effect, restricted.

“Similarly, multiple nuclear warheads that are mounted on bombers are effectively not counted. Unlike past treaty restrictions, ICBMs are not prohibited from bombers. This means that Russia is free to mount a nearly unlimited number of ICBMs on bombers—including MIRVs (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) or multiple warheads—without tripping the treaty’s limits.”

This is where I began to wonder if Romney had fallen prey to someone, perhaps a spy from Sarah Palin’s camp, who wanted to make him look like an idiot.

ICBMs are not “mounted on,” or loaded inside, bombers. The only nuclear weapons carried by bombers are bombs; that’s why they’re called bombers. (Many years ago, some B-52s and B-1s were equipped with air-launched cruise missiles, which flew through the atmosphere, as opposed to intercontinental ballistic missiles, which arc outside the atmosphere. These ALCMs are almost completely phased out, in any case.) Certainly bombers are incapable of carrying MIRVs (which, by the way, are “multiple warheads” loaded onto the tips of missiles).

I think Romney’s ghostwriter might have mixed up one of his talking points. New START counts each bomber as if it is carrying just one nuclear bomb, even though it almost certainly carries several. This counting rule was established for practical reasons. A bomber might carry three bombs one day, a dozen the next, with no need to alter its design. There’s no way to verify how many it’s carrying. So they agreed just to count one bomber as one bomb.

The thing is, this counting rule is to the United States’ advantage, not Russia’s. We have 113 heavy bombers; they have 77. So, if this is what Romney’s ghostwriter meant to take note of, it’s not a problem with the treaty, not from the U.S. point of view.

“Under New START, the United States must drastically reduce our number of launchers but Russia will not—it already has fewer launchers than the treaty limits. Put another way: We give, Russia gets.”

As noted above, this is irrelevant. Both sides do have to reduce the number of warheads, which is to say weapons, and Russia has to cut more than the United States does.

“The treaty ignores tactical nuclear weapons, where Russia outnumbers us by as much as 10 to 1.… Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads that are categorized as tactical because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella. And who can know how those tactical nuclear warheads might be reconfigured?”

True, the treaty does not limit tactical nuclear weapons. But this isn’t a gotcha point; both sides explicitly recognize this fact. Obama hopes to tackle the issue in a follow-on treaty, though doing so will be very hard, since Russia regards its tactical nukes as a counterweight to U.S. conventional military superiority.

Still, three points need to be made here. First, a Senate rejection of the treaty won’t limit tactical nuclear weapons, either. If the choice is to ratify the treaty or reject it, the point is irrelevant. Second, the “nuclear umbrella”—the U.S. commitment to threaten enemies with nuclear retaliation if they attack our allies—is unaffected by the presence of Russian tactical nukes; the rough parity in strategic (or long-range) nuclear weapons is far more decisive. Third, I know of no source claiming that Russia has 10,000 tactical nukes. The number is classified (and probably not precisely known by anyone, perhaps including the Russians), but the real number is believed to be about 2,000, compared with the United States’ 500 (and no serious strategist or military officer believes we need anywhere close to that many for any purpose).

Steve Benen:

Some very strong responses to Romney’s piece have already been published by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and the Center for American Progress’ Max Bergmann, but perhaps the most detailed, point-by-point refutation comes by way of Slate‘s Fred Kaplan, who exposed Romney’s piece as vapid nonsense.

In 35 years of following debates over nuclear arms control, I have never seen anything quite as shabby, misleading and—let’s not mince words—thoroughly ignorant as Mitt Romney’s attack on the New START treaty in the July 6 Washington Post.

Senate Republicans are looking for some grounds — any grounds — to defeat this treaty, which was signed in April by President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, and which will soon come to the Senate floor for a vote.

Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, clearly feels the need to pump up some foreign-policy swagger in advance of the 2012 presidential primaries. But one would think he could have found a ghostwriter who had even the vaguest acquaintance with the subject matter.

Kaplan literally goes line by line, in as thorough a take-down as I’ve seen in quite a while. Romney is left looking like a fool.

In the larger context, my biggest concern is that opposition to the treaty will become a standard Republican move to prove one’s right-wing bona fides. That would be a disaster — this treaty needs to pass, and like all treaties, it’ll need 67 votes in the Senate. That means at least eight GOP senators have to vote for it if it comes to the floor this year, or probably more if it’s voted on next year.

Several officials with stature among Republicans — Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), Henry Kissinger, Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz, Reagan Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein, Colin Powell, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker, former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.) — have already endorsed New START, and have urged Congress to ratify it. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mullen has said the treaty “has the full support of your uniformed military.”

Whether Senate Republicans listens to this group or Mitt Romney remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Barron YoungSmith at TNR

Daniel Drezner

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2 Comments

Filed under Political Figures, Russia

2 responses to “Mitt Writes An Op-Ed

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