Last week was a big week for New START on the op-ed pages and blogs. Joe Cirincione has a nice little summary of what transpired over at the Huffington Post. Like Jeffrey Lewis, I thought the best response (and there were many good ones) to Mitt Romney’s embarrassing effort to dress himself up as knowledgeable about national security was provided by Sen. Lugar.
Jeffrey highlights Sen. Lugar’s response to the claim that New START is a bad treaty because it doesn’t capture Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons. As Jeffrey notes, this is just plain dumb, for while Russia’s non-strategic weapons are a concern, failure to ratify New START would make it just about impossible to reach a subsequent agreement with Russia on tactical nuclear weapons, whether that agreement comes in the form of greater transparency, central storage, and/or actual reductions.
Yet I thought the most interesting part of Sen. Lugar’s response on tac nukes was his view of the threat they pose (or don’t pose) to our allies in Europe…
Russia does have more tactical weapons than we do, but he [Romney] distorts their value by implying that they constitute a serious missile threat to Europe. In fact, most of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons either have very short ranges, are used for homeland air defense, are devoted to the Chinese border, or are in storage. He also ignores that our NATO allies have endorsed the New START Treaty. A Russian attack on NATO countries is effectively deterred by NATO conventional superiority, our own tactical nuclear forces, French and British nuclear arsenals, and U.S. strategic forces.
Senator Lugar is not the only Republican to have expressed such views. Never one to lack for great arms control one liners, Linton Brooks once stated:
I’ve never completely understood why something that only blows up in Russia is a threat to me unless I plan to invade.
Even Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher seems to get it. In an exchange with Keith Payne at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on nuclear weapons policy last year, Rohrabacher noted:
Let me suggest that the point you just made, that the tactical nuclear weapons should be a major concern, absolutely not — just the opposite. Tactical nuclear weapons that by the — we’re talking about in terms of their land forces, et cetera, we’re not going to invade Russia; they’re not going to be used against people invading Russia from Europe or from the United States. Those weapons will help deter a communist Chinese attack on Russia and they know that; that’s why they don’t want to give it up and we should realize that as a justifiable fear. And how we do that, perhaps, is making sure that we don’t create this false impression that we are still in a state of Cold War with the Russians by expanding NATO.
A close examination of the types of tactical weapons in the Russian arsenal reveals that Moscow’s alleged advantage (10:1 is the most oft-cited number) turns out to be not that much of an advantage at all. They simply don’t increase the threat already posed by Russia’s strategic weapons. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want to get a handle on them. As many security experts have noted, tactical nuclear weapons are more vulnerable to loss or theft than strategic weapons. But grossly overstating their geopolitical significance is inaccurate and creates a justification for hanging on to far more nuclear weapons than we actually need.