Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The President Makes a Dangerous Linkage

The President has made a dangerous mistake by publicly linking America's missile defense system with his desire to cut nuclear arsenals.    

Mr. Obama's recent open mic incident with Russian President Medvedev has raised profile of the issue of strategic negotiations with the Russians.  The President's statement that he would have more "flexibility" after the election could have meant several different things, none of which were clear from his recorded whispers to the Russian leader.  Putting aside for the moment the notion of an American President telling the Russian President that he'd be able to make deals after he no longer has to answer to the American public, the nature of those deals was somewhat mysterious.  I believe we have gained some insight on what the President meant, and fortunately--for those who seek solid sourcing of such things--we have it from the President himself.  It should cause those with an interest in national security some pause.

In remarks made at noon Seoul time on March the 27th, the President made the following statement, ostensibly to explain his "open mic" gaffe of the previous day:  " I don't think it's any surprise that you can't start that a few months before a presidential and congressional elections in the United States, and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia and they're in the process of a presidential transition where a new president is going to be coming in in a little less than two months.

So it was a very simple point, and one that essentially I repeated when I spoke to you guys yesterday, which is that we're going to spend the next nine, 10 months trying to work through some of the technical aspects of how we get past what is a major point of friction -- one of the primary points of friction between our two countries, which is this whole missile defense issue.  And it involves a lot of complicated issues.  If we can get our technical teams to clear out the underbrush, then hopefully, in 2013, there's a foundation to actually make some significant progress on this and a lot of other bilateral issues.

So I think everybody understands that -- if they haven't they haven't been listening to my speeches -- I want to reduce our nuclear stockpiles.  And one of the barriers to doing that is building trust and cooperation around missile defense issues.  And so this is not a matter of hiding the ball, I'm on record.  I made a speech about it to a whole bunch of Korean university students yesterday.  I want to see us, over time, gradually, systematically, reduce reliance on nuclear weapons."

 What the President did in that statement constitutes a direct linkage of the nation's missile defense system with ongoing negotiations to cut strategic nuclear arsenals in Russia and the United States.  The President has made no secret of his long standing objection to nuclear weapons, something he has made the centerpiece of at least one major address during this term.  In his own words (above), he has provided the Russians with additional incentive to insist on continuing to link dismantling of our missile defense system to cuts in nuclear arsenals.  It does not constitute a stretch to posit that the President is willing to make additional concessions on missile defense in order to gain his legacy goal of dramatic cuts, as his assurances to Mr. Medvedev seem to reinforce.  

If cuts to strategic stockpiles cannot be made on the merits of the case for doing so, then such cuts are not worth making.  Sweetening the deal by hobbling our already modest missile defense architecture should never even enter the discussion. 

Congress must make its views known loudly and clearly on this subject.  Senators who view this linkage as dimly as I do should publicly announce that they will support NO strategic arms treaty with even a whiff of linkage to missile defense.  The President has overplayed his hand.

Bryan McGrath

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