Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona yesterday announced that he opposes any consideration by the lame duck Senate of the New START treaty, which reduces the nuclear arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union. Kyl, who is the leading conservative voice on nuclear weapons issues in the Senate, has a lot of support in the Republican caucus, and his opposition probably has doomed consideration of the treaty for now. John Bolton and I had publicly called on Senators to put off consideration of the agreement because of its many flaws, the top three of which are the low limits on nuclear warheads, the limits on delivery systems, and the linkage of arms control with national missile defense. Kyl wisely is bargaining with the Obama administration to win more funding for the modernization and maintenance of our nuclear arsenal and to make clear that our missile defense programs will go forward.
Kyl's opposition raises a larger question. Why should the United States keep pursuing these Cold War-era agreements with Russia? It made sense when both nations were superpowers and had arsenals easily exceeding 20,000 warheads. But Russia is not the Soviet Union of old, despite the move back toward authoritarianism under Putin. We have less to worry about with Russia's nuclear posture, which would have grown smaller anyway because of her economic problems. Our major focus should be on deterring nations such as Iran and North Korea from obtaining and deploying nuclear weapons, and providing a strategic counterweight for our Asian allies to rising powers such as China. That means that we should not be reducing our precision delivery systems, which could drop conventional warheads on nuclear weapons facilities abroad, and least of all should we be limiting missile defense, which may be our last best hope of preventing nuclear proliferation from threatening the United States homeland.