“The president is using and will continue to use U.S. ballistic missile defense as a bargaining chip with the Russians in his single-minded pursuit of ridding the world of nuclear weapons,” said Rebeccah Heinrichs, a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, on Apr. 4. “The president thinks that missile defense is essential in negotiating nuclear arms reductions with the Russians.”
Baker Spring, Heritage’s F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy, added that the President Obama has repeatedly “circumvented” restrictions put forth by the Senate as conditions for that chamber’s ratification of the New START Treaty.
“In essence, what the Senate was doing, at least on the nuclear side of its restrictions on the president, was telling him they did not want him to proceed quickly down this path towards nuclear disarmament, but that’s exactly where he’s going, regardless,” said Spring.
On Mar. 26 in Seoul, South Korea, President Obama apparently thought he was speaking privately to Medvedev when live microphones caught the exchange between the two leaders.
Obama: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved. But it's important for him (Vladimir Putin) to give me space.”
Medvedev: “Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you —”
Obama: “This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.”
Medvedev: “Yeah. Yeah. I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir. I understand.”
Within days, in trying to clarify his remarks that were caught on the live microphones, Obama said, “Arms control is extraordinarily complex, very technical, and the only way it gets done is if you can consult and build a strong understanding, both between countries and within countries.”
At the Heritage Foundation, Heinrichs and Spring also analyzed the president’s record on missile defense in the wider context of his supposed overall goal of complete nuclear disarmament.
In Heinrich’s view, Obama has only shown a “façade of support” for missile defense systems while he has an extensive record of dismantling them.
“Since he entered office, he has scaled back the more advanced missile defense systems year after year,” she said.
“This year’s budget is, in fact, $1 billion less than the number he sent to Congress last year for FY ’13, and it is $2 billion less than what then-President Bush said would be needed for FY ’13, based on the projected threat and the projected status of [the Ballistic Missile Defense System.]”
Moreover, the Obama administration, according to Heinrichs, has funded missile defense for European countries at a rate 5 times greater than for the United States, in addition to backpedaling on its promise to fund nuclear weapon modernization.
The New START Treaty was signed by Obama and Medvedev in early 2011, setting new limits on the number of nuclear warheads and missiles held by the United States and Russia. The Senate advised that the president must resume negotiations within a year of implementation of the treaty to further reduce stockpiles, but on the condition that missile defense would not be subject to negotiation.
At the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, President Obama said, “We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need,” and the U.S. nuclear arsenal that grew during the Cold War is “poorly suited” to the threats of today’s world.
Both Heinrichs and Spring concluded that the “hot mic” incident with Medevedev revealed President Obama’s intent to disregard the Senate and exposed his plan to use missile defense as a “bargaining chip” to achieve his ultimate goal of full nuclear disarmament.
If Obama does not win re-election in November, Spring anticipates the president will attempt to permanently impose his desired additions to the New START treaty without senatorial approval during the lame duck period of the current Congress, between November and mid-January.
“If you believe that in this context the administration is in the process of informally pre-cooking a deal with the Russians, we may find that it is sprung on us sooner rather than later,” said Spring.
The panel agreed that not only did Obama reveal future plans to violate the Senate’s terms of ratifying New START by bringing missile defense into negotiations, but that this was his plan all along.