GOP vs. GOP on New START

The major dailies feature dueling op-eds by a number of Republican luminaries pertaining to the New START treaty.

On the side of ratification are Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, James Baker III, Lawrence Eagleberger and Colin Powell in the Washington Post; and Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff Howard Baker in the USA Today.

In the Wall Street Journal, Ed Meese, former Reagan Attorney General, and Richard Perle, a Reagan-era defense official and prominent neoconservative, contend that the agreement impedes efforts to deploy missile defense, and argue that it should be rejected on those grounds. In an additional leap, they summon Ronald Reagan from the grave – though, in fairness, President Obama foolishly did the same. Where Obama claims that Reagan would have supported ratification, Meese and Perle assert that The Gipper would have opposed New START because he was so committed to missile defense as a concept.

I’ll leave it up to readers to decide which side has assembled the more credible voices on matters pertaining to national security. The pro-side of New START today boasts five former Republican secretaries of state (and a leading Republican senator and Reagan White House staffer thrown in for good measure). Plus Bob Gates. Plus Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Adm. Mike Mullen. Plus a slew of retired generals. (I could go on.) The anti-New START forces bring forward a former attorney general and a gentleman who fellow Reagan administration staffer Ken Adelman suspected was an opponent of all arms control agreements. Adelman told author Alan Weisman “Richard had the attitude that no arms control treaty could be good.” Presumably that is still the case.

On the merits of ratification of this particular treaty, I commend this column in The National Interest Online by Cato’s own Benjamin Friedman and MIT’s Owen Cote. As for claims that New START impedes our efforts to deploy strategic missile defense, that piece concludes that the agreement does no such thing. For additional detail on this question, the good people over at the American Security Project have assembled a handy fact sheet.

Although I have given my qualified support to New START in the past, now is the time for a dispassionate and objective assessment of the pluses and minuses, not hyperbolic claims of the harms that would come either from ratification or a failure to ratify.