Debating START Treaty Ratification

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Sen. John Kerry argued in favor of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, saying that it would keep America safe; Sen. Jim DeMint said it would weaken national security. Your feedback:

Come on, Mr. DeMint. Are you serious? The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty doesn’t limit tactical nuclear weapons because it is a treaty intended to limit strategic [long range] nuclear weapons. The Obama administration has quite clearly, and rightly, stated that tactical [battlefield] nuclear weapons will be dealt with in subsequent negotiations. However, if you and your Senate cohorts are incapable of pushing through New START, there won’t be any follow-on negotiations to push for tactical nuke cuts. This failure would be a severe blow to global nuclear reductions and a safer world.

RICK WAYMAN Santa Barbara, Calif.

I think there are a lot of potential verification problems with the treaty and, as DeMint points out, it doesn’t restrict the large number of tactical nukes that Russia has targeted on Europe. That said, there are potential advantages if we don’t do things stupidly. The current plan is to reduce the number of warheads on submarine-launched ballistic missiles from eight to three, thus basing a total of 1008 warheads on 14 subs. We could maintain the same number of warheads by keeping eight warheads per missile and using just nine of the 24 missile tubes per sub. This would permit the Navy to convert the remaining 15 tubes per sub to use for cruise missiles, as has been done with four previous ballistic missile submarines, or to outright convert four to six of the SSBNs [ballistic missile subs] to the resoundingly successful SSGNs [cruise missile subs] and install cruise missiles in the surplus capacity on the SSBNs. Why do this? It would be a very cheap way to counter the Chinese naval and cruise missile buildup in the South China Sea and the new anticarrier ballistic missile they have developed. This is no small issue, as we have just parked three of our four newly converted SSGNs in striking range of China. We’ll see if the secretary of defense, the chief of naval operations, and the president wake up to this possibility.

JAMES REFALO Los Angeles

Senator DeMint’s arguments against START dodge three related questions: 1. If the treaty is bad for the U.S. nuclear posture, why did seven of the last eight commanders of our strategic nuclear forces write to senators urging them to ratify it? 2. If it threatens missile defense, why did Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, testify that it does not? 3. If it is bad for U.S. security, why did Defense Secretary Robert Gates declare that it has the “unanimous support” of the U.S. military? Either the senator has unique knowledge that our military leaders do not possess or he is calling them liars. Which is it?

PETER FERENBACH Laytonville, Calif.

I read both your articles on this subject. To me there is no question of the necessity for the U.S. to have at least the equivalent of Russia’s missile capability. Nuclear devices on small [tactical] missiles are just as deadly as on large ones.

MARIAN CRANFORD Homewood, Ala.

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