Two staunch ideologues who served in the George W. Bush administration, John Bolton and John Yoo, ask rhetorically in a New York Times opinion piece, “Why Rush to Cut Nukes?”  Bolton, a recess appointment as United Nations Ambassador under Bush II, never met an arms limitation agreement that he supported.  Yoo, the lawyer who wrote memos supporting the legality of water boarding under international law (not a very favorable prospect for captured U.S. soldiers), worked in Bush II’s Justice Department.  Bolton and Yoo can find no good reason to support the New START agreement with the Russians, arguing that without amendments it will weaken “our national defense.”  

Let me answer the question posed in the title of their article.  The Senate should support and ratify this treaty because it will strengthen U.S. national security by:

  • reducing the size of the bloated nuclear arsenals in both countries, creating a new lower level from which to make further reductions;
  • reinstating verification procedures that ended with the expiration of the first START agreement in December 2009;
  • building confidence in the Russians that we stand behind our agreements; and
  • sending a signal to the rest of the world that we are taking steps to fulfill our legal commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to achieve nuclear disarmament.

The downsides of failing to ratify the treaty would be to remove restraints on the size of the Russian arsenal, forego inspection and verification of the Russian arsenal, undermine Russian confidence in U.S. commitments, and encourage further nuclear proliferation by other countries thereby increasing the possibilities of nuclear terrorism. Further, if the treaty is not ratified before the new Congress is seated in January 2011, its future ratification will be far more difficult.

What do Bolton and Yoo say they want?  First, to remove language in the treaty’s preamble, which is not legally binding, that says there is an “interrelationship” between nuclear weapons and defensive systems.  That language only recognizes a reality.  Of course, there is a relationship between missiles and missile defenses.  Second, they don’t want the U.S. to be limited in putting conventional weapons on formerly nuclear launch systems.  But that is a price, and a fair one, that each side will pay for lowering the other side’s nuclear capabilities.  Third, they want a Congressional act for the financing, testing and development of new U.S. warhead designs before the treaty is ratified.  In other words, they want guarantees that the U.S. nuclear arsenal will be modernized.  They seek long-term reliance on the U.S. nuclear threat, but this means that U.S. citizens will also remain under nuclear threat for the long-term.

Bolton and Yoo are an interesting pair.  The first would lop ten floors off the United Nations, the second do away with the laws of war when they aren’t convenient.  Do they deserve their own opinions?  Of course.  Do their opinions make any sense?  Only in the context of the American exceptionalism and militarism that were the trademarks of the Bush II administration and have done so much to weaken the spirit, values and resources of the country while continuing to haunt us in our aggressive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

One must wonder what possessed the New York Times to publish their rantings.  Additionally, using the word “Nukes” in the title suggests somehow that nuclear weapons are cute enough to have nicknames and not a serious threat to the very existence of civilization.  That Bolton and Yoo could rise to high positions in our country is a sad commentary on the country, but perhaps understandable in the context of the Bush II administration’s persistent flouting of international law.  That the New York Times would find sufficient merit in their discredited opinions to publish their article is an even sadder commentary on the editorial integrity of one of the country’s most respected newspapers.