Sen. McCain Invents Missile Defense Problem In New START's Preamble

December 17, 2010 6:07 pm ET

In a long floor speech during Senate deliberations on ratifying the New START treaty, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) assailed the treaty for supposedly containing language to weaken the United States' ability to implement missile defense systems. McCain cited several parts of the treaty, but focused on language in the preamble, claiming that Russia will "surely" use it to "try to keep us from building up our missile defenses." Yet analysts have confirmed that this is a misinterpretation of the clause; not only is the preamble non-binding, but in addition the clause in question is merely a statement of widely-recognized fact on the interrelationship between offensive and defensive missile defense systems.

CLAIM: Russia Could Use New START As "A De Facto Veto Against U.S. Missile Defense Systems"

Sen. McCain:

But what I want to focus on this afternoon is the reference to missile defense that appears in the preamble, because that language carries a lot of historical significance and strategic weight, and it has been the root of mine and other senators' concerns about how the Russian Federation could use this treaty as a de facto veto against U.S. missile defense systems. [...]

By saying that current missile defenses do not undermine the treaty's viability and effectiveness, this agreed-upon language in the preamble establishes that future missile defense deployments could undermine the treaty, thereby establishing a political argument that the Russian Federation will surely use at a future date and try to keep us from building up our missile defenses. In short, we have handed the Russian government the political pressure they have sought for so long to bind our future decisions and actions on strategic defensive arms. [McCain floor speech, 12/17/10]

FACT: Preamble Language Is A Statement Of Fact

New America Foundation: "The Preamble Language Is Just A Statement Of Reality." According to the New America Foundation:

The relevant statement from the preamble, in its entirety, reads as follows:

"Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties..."

So, what does this observation mean? First, it indicates that Russia has no objection to current U.S. missile defenses. And second, it indicates that the relationship between offensive and defensive arms will become "more important" as the numbers of strategic weapons are reduced.

In short, the preamble language is just a statement of reality.  If nuclear weapons are reduced substantially - to levels far lower than the 1,550 allowed to each side under New START - the balance between offensive and defensive arms will need to be handled carefully to avoid sparking a new arms race.  Why is this? Because if Russia fears that the United States can destroy most of its nuclear weapons, and then blunt any retaliatory action with its missile defenses, Moscow will feel vulnerable to what is known as a "disarming first strike."  Rather than accept this position of vulnerability, Russia will deploy more warheads and delivery vehicles to prevent the U.S. from developing or sustaining a first strike capability, and an arms race will ensue. [New America Foundation, 8/4/10, emphasis added]

FACT: New START Preamble Language Is Non-Binding

New START Preamble Is "Not Legally Binding." According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: "As is customary in treaties, the preamble to New START is not legally binding." [The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, accessed 12/17/10]

FACT: General In Charge Of Missile Defense Says New START Will Help, Not Hinder, Missile Defense Efforts

Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly: "The New START Treaty Has No Constraints On...The Ballistic Missile Defense System." In testimony before the House Armed Forces Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly said: "The New START Treaty has no constraints on current and future components of the BMDS development or deployment. Article V, Section 3 of the treaty prohibits the conversion of ICBM or SLBM launchers to missile defense launchers, and vice versa, while "grandfathering" the five former ICBM silos at Vandenberg AFB already converted for Ground Based Interceptors. MDA never had a plan to convert additional ICBM silos at Vandenberg and intends to hedge against increased BMDS requirements by completing construction of Missile Field 2 at Fort Greely. Moreover, we determined that if more interceptors were to be added at Vandenberg AFB, it would be less expensive to build a new GBI missile field (which is not prohibited by the treaty). Regarding SLBM launchers, some time ago we examined the concept of launching missile defense interceptors from submarines and found it an unattractive and extremely expensive option." [Gen. O'Reilly Testimony, 4/15/10]

Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly: New START Treaty "Actually Reduces Constraints On The Development Of The Missile Defense Program." In testimony before the House Armed Forces Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly said: "Relative to the recently expired START Treaty, the New START Treaty actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program. Unless they have New-START accountable first stages (which we do not plan to use), our targets will no longer be subject to START constraints, which limited our use of air-to-surface and waterborne launches of targets which are essential for the cost-effective testing of missile defense interceptors against MRBM and IRBM targets in the Pacific area. In addition, under New START, we will no longer be limited to five space launch facilities for target launches." [Gen. O'Reilly Testimony, 4/15/10]

  • Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly Serves As Director Of The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.According to his biography on the Missile Defense Agency website: "Lieutenant General Patrick J. O'Reilly is the Director for the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Office of the Secretary of Defense, Pentagon, Washington, DC. In this capacity, he oversees MDA's worldwide mission to develop a capability to defend deployed forces, the United States, Allies, and friends against ballistic missile attacks." [MDA.mil, accessed 11/14/10]

AP: New START "Doesn't Place Any Practical Constraints On Missile Defense." According to theAssociated Press: "The treaty doesn't place any practical constraints on missile defense. The document's preamble, which is not legally binding, acknowledges a link between nuclear weapons and missile defense. It's an assertion that was accepted by George W. Bush's administration: The point of missile defense is to counteract nuclear-tipped missiles." [Associated Press11/19/10]

CLAIM: Preamble "Reestablishes" Offensive-Defensive Linkage That Bush Administration Worked To "Decouple"

Sen. McCain:

This is what the 8th clause of the preamble says, and I quote from the preamble:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between the strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this relationship will become more important as strategic arms — nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the party.

There are many problems with this statement, and more that stem from it. First, that it reestablishes — it reestablishes,after what I told you about happened during the Reagan administration — it reestablishes — because we worked very hard over the past — I mean, over the Bush administration — I say reestablishes because we worked very hard over the past decade, to decouple these two concepts, our offensive nuclear weapons and our missile defenses. [McCain floor speech, 12/17/10]

FACT: President Bush Acknowledged Interrelationship Of Offensive And Defensive Systems

President Bush: Reduction Of Defensive And Offensive Missile Systems "Go Hand-In-Hand." From The Center for Arms control and Non-Proliferation: "Moreover, the recognition of an interrelationship between offensive and defensive forces is an objective reality that imposes no limits on U.S. missile defense plans. This linkage is not new. For example, in a 2001 press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President George W. Push remarked: '[A]s the President [Putin] said, that we're going to have open and honest dialogue about defensive systems, as well as reduction of offensive systems. The two go hand-in-hand in order to set up a new strategic framework for peace." The preamble also states "that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.' This language is a big win for the U.S., as it reflects agreement between the two sides that current U.S. missile defense plans are not a threat to Russia." [The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, accessed 12/17/10, italics original]

Print