During my long career in the U.S. Air Force I was at the very sharp end of the spear that defended our nation, rising to deputy commander-in-chief and chief of staff of U.S. Strategic Command.
During that time, going back to the Reagan years and before, the U.S. methodically and relentlessly carved out a process for understanding and reducing strategic nuclear arms — in order increase our national security.
Many have forgotten or did not live through those times during the Cold War when the numbers of nuclear weapons and delivery platforms were escalating at a tremendous rate and costs were ratcheting up at an ever-increasing pace.
It was courageous of political leaders in those perilous times to begin talking to our heavily-armed enemy, the Soviet Union, to find paths to lower numbers of nuclear weapons, lower cost burdens, and increase security for our country and the world.
Since those efforts took root, real progress has been made, the numbers of very deadly weapons are dramatically lower, costs have dropped, and our security vis-à-vis the former Soviet states is far stronger.
Today we have a good treaty ready to continue the progress on numbers, costs, and national security.
The New START Treaty that is presently before the Senate contains verification and transparency measures that will allow our inspectors inside Russian strategic nuclear facilities, as well as create stability between our forces.
Without New START, we will reintroduce uncertainty into the U.S.-Russia strategic relationship. Over the length of the Cold War, we learned that uncertainty breeds mistrust, costly worst-case planning, and risk. New START reduces uncertainty by locking in the size of each side's arsenal and providing for onsite verification. The resulting improved strategic stability that will come with New START will make it possible for both sides to pursue agreements on tactical nuclear weapons and proliferation.
Without ratification, we will be left with the requirement to spend our limited resources and money on weapons we don't need to counter a force structure that could be verifiably reduced under the treaty.
Without New START, our national security institutions will need to devote more resources to monitoring Russian strategic forces, by satellite and other means; we will also have to force-plan for scenarios we should not need to. This will involve spending money where we don't have a need, and worse, it could mean taking away money from programs and systems that our fighters actually do need.
What stands in the way? An ever-more-vague, disingenuous, and ill-advised raising of the bar for political support. The very same questions that have been asked and answered about missile defense, verification, and stewardship of the nuclear enterprise are brought up again and again in the face of iron-clad analysis and billions of added dollars. These “red herrings” are presented wrapped in ever more demanding commitments from future legislators that no arms control treaty past or future could meet.
As this treaty is pushed off with no deadline and no path to prevent an already developing cooling of U.S., Russia relationships, Cold War nuclear realities echo in my head saying to senators, “Do the right thing!”
Lt. Gen. Dirk Jameson (retired) is a former deputy commander and chief and chief of staff, U.S. Strategic Command who had responsibility for all ICBM strategic nuclear forces. He is a member of the Consensus for American Security, http://www.securityconsensus.org.