[Editors’ note: This is a transcript of a speech delivered by Senator Jon Kyl at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s recent Santa Barbara Retreat. To watch the video of the speech, click here.]
Jon Kyl: Thank you. Thank you very much. Carol and I are delighted to be with you all here this evening. And I begin by saying something that I know you all know. But David Horowitz knows more about the threat from the Left, about its insidious capabilities -- but what to do about them -- than anyone else in America. And all of us here owe him a debt of gratitude for devoting, literally, his life to the cause of defeating the Left in America.
We begin by supporting efforts such as this. But if every one of us here devoted just a tenth of the energy and time that David has to this cause, there would be no doubt in my mind that it can be defeated. So David, thank you for inviting me to be with you here this evening and for getting every conservative in California to be here in one room tonight. I appreciate that.
I’ve been asked tonight to speak about Iran, Israel and nuclear weapons. I’m going to do this from prepared text, quickly. Because I’d really like to get to a conversation with all of you about what you think is most important. What I need to know, and if there are questions I can answer, we can have a good discussion about these or any other subjects on your mind. So I’m going to get through this relatively in quick order.
But these are the central issues of our time, of our national security. And of course, the recent foreign policy debate has been dominated by discussion about nuclear proliferation. But despite the grand proclamations from President Obama, not much has really been accomplished in this area, if you stop to think about it.
But in my view, in fact, recent actions have been more than meaningless. There’s a strong possibility that this new START Treaty -- the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that the President and President Medvedev signed -- could actually hinder US missile defense efforts, could limit our advanced conventional weapons and weaken verification mechanisms. The Senate will have to pay very close attention to these and other provisions, especially since the administration has repeatedly said that the treaty would not contain any limitations on US missile defense, which is plainly not true. We can talk more about this, if you’d like.
And while President Obama has eagerly promoted the new START Treaty, he has yet to demonstrate a strong commitment to modernizing America’s nuclear arsenal. When you reduce the numbers down to a much smaller number, you have to know that they will do what we threaten that they can do. The President’s 2010 nuclear posture review appears to make modernization more difficult. This is important, because experts agree that our deterrent has degraded over time, and it must be brought up to date.
Last year, Congress required the President to submit a plan to rectify the problem no later than when the START Treaty is sent to the Senate for ratification. President Obama says that his agenda is designed to promote his long-term goal -- a world without nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, the President has not seriously confronted the world’s most immediate problem -- the nuclear challenge, the threat of a nuclear Iran. It’s typical of this President to make self-congratulatory statements and chalk up PR victories on the work that’s easy. For example, the number of warheads in Russia’s arsenal has not been a major issue since the collapse of the Soviet Union, now 20 years ago.
But when the issue’s tough, when the stakes are much higher, as they are with Iran, the President has very little to say. In fact, as The Wall Street Journal recently editorialized, the evidence increasingly suggests that President Obama believes a nuclear Iran is inevitable, even if he can’t or won’t admit it publicly.
Let’s imagine what would happen if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons. Some have argued that we could contain a nuclear Iran using conventional deterrence mechanisms. After all, we lived with a nuclear armed Soviet Union for four decades. Deterrence worked with Moscow, so why wouldn’t it work with Tehran? Well, it all depends on your definition of “work.” While the Soviets never used nuclear weapons, their possession of these weapons allowed them to subjugate Eastern Europe, foment Communist revolution around the world, and sponsor a range of international terrorist groups.
When the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956 to crush a democratic uprising, they knew that the risk of a nuclear exchange would prevent the United States from responding with military force. In other words, Moscow’s nuclear arsenal served it as the ultimate shield. It allowed the Kremlin to undermine US interests across the globe without fear of American nuclear reprisal. The Soviets didn’t need to use their nuclear weapons; the mere fact that they had them dramatically increased both strategic power and leverage over the United States, at least in certain situations.
The same would be true of Iran. Even if the mullahs never actually detonated a nuclear bomb, their acquisition of nuclear capability would forever change Iran’s regional and global influence. And it would forever change the Middle East. If Iran went nuclear, its neighbors, particularly Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, might well feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear arsenals. Tehran could easily trigger a dangerous chain reaction of nuclear proliferation.
And once they had nuclear weapons, the Iranians would be more aggressive in supporting terrorist organizations such as those who are killing Americans in Iraq, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas; and possibly provide them with nuclear materials. They would be emboldened to conduct economic warfare against the West, for example by disrupting oil shipments traveling through the [Straits] of Hormuz.
Iran would also be more confident about expanding its footprint in Latin America, where it has already established a close working relationship with Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. Governments around the world would lose faith in America’s reliability as a strategic partner. The United States’ credibility would be irrevocably weakened.
And remember, this is not the worst-case scenario. We are assuming that a self-preservation instinct would dissuade the Iranians from ever actually launching nuclear weapons against the United States or our allies. Then again, is that really a safe assumption? Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly expressed his desire to destroy the State of Israel. Given his radical millenarian religious views and viciously anti-Semitic ideology espoused by the Iranian theocracy, we can’t simply dismiss the idea that Iran would attack nuclear -- or a country like Israel with nuclear weapons.
The Israelis certainly think it could happen. I found it interesting, in a 2007 article in The New Republic, Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren, who’s now Israeli Ambassador to the United States, cited two deeply alarming poll numbers. First, 66 percent of Israelis said that they believed that Iran would use a nuclear weapon against Israel. Second, in response to a separate poll question, 27 percent of Israelis said that they would consider emigrating abroad if Iran acquired nuclear weapons.
Think about that for a minute. More than a quarter of Israelis would consider leaving their home country in response to Iran’s going nuclear. Now, Israel only has about seven million people. If 27 percent left, would the Jewish state be able to survive? It’s a chilling question to ponder. We must recognize that a nuclear armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel, even if it never used a nuclear bomb.
As Klein Halevi and Oren wrote in their article -- and I quote -- “If Iran manages to overcome US threats and UN sanctions and achieve nuclear capability, it will be seen throughout the Muslim world as unstoppable.” And that will unravel the President’s grand, global nonproliferation agreement. Does the Obama Administration really appreciate that? Does it understand the true gravity of the Iranian nuclear crisis?
Well, I think the administration was correct when the President stated in the Nuclear Posture Review that today’s most immediate and extreme danger is nuclear terrorism. And today’s other pressing threat is nuclear proliferation. Would that the President would do something about this, or try.
He held his recent summit of all the world leaders -- 47 heads of state meeting in Washington. There was a golden opportunity at this event to develop a strong international consensus on the number-one nuclear proliferation threat, Iran. Fact, the very same week, two top military officials informed the Congress that Iran is about a year away from acquiring material that it needs to make a nuclear weapon. And yet, despite two days of talks and much high-minded rhetoric, the summit did not move us any closer to tough sanctions or any other meaningful Security Council resolution or other action by willing parties.
It’s now been seven months since Barack Obama said that the Iranian regime would face sanctions; twice that long since he took office. And yet, Russia and China continue to resist imposing tough sanctions, and US concessions have not changed their position. In short, President Obama’s Iran policy is failing.
So what should we be doing differently? Well, first one has to say that the situation would not be nearly as dire as it is today had we begun to do these things as much as five or six years ago. So it’s not entirely the fault of the Obama Administration. Second, we should recognize that Iran’s heavy dependence on imported gasoline makes it highly vulnerable to outside pressure.
That’s why Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman and I wrote legislation, the Iran Sanctions Act, that would impose muscular sanctions on companies that export gasoline to Iran or invest in its energy sector. Our bill has passed both the House and Senate and, just this week, went into a conference committee. Our hope is that we can actually pass a bill by the House and Senate and send it to the President before the United Nations acts in some weak way that would give the President an excuse to suggest that once again we delay action on our legislation. By putting a squeeze on Iran’s gas supplies and dissuading energy firms from investing in the country, we could force the Iranian regime to make difficult decisions about its finances and further increase the regime’s unpopularity.
Third, we should also lend moral and rhetorical support to the Iranian democracy activists, who poured into the streets last [September] to protest a fraudulent election. The Iranian people are much more likely to accept the results of sanctions if they appreciate the fact that, at least in part, they are designed to embolden and empower the Iranian people to have greater say over their own governance. Just as we had championed the cause of the Soviet and Eastern European dissidents during the Cold War, we should promote the efforts of the Iranian freedom fighters and shine a spotlight on that regime’s brutal repression.
To that end, I sincerely hope that a part of this conference committee of which I spoke would sanction Iranian officials who are actually guilty of committing crimes, human rights abuses against specific Iranians, as my colleague, John McCain, has proposed. But clamping down on Iran must go beyond the introduction of US sanctions and support for Iranian democrats. We’ve got to confront those governments that continue to help Iran evade punishment by the international community. And everyone knows that we’re talking about Russia and China. They’ve been blocking the imposition of sanctions. And clearly, the United States has not pressured either one of them to come to the assistance of the civilized world.
Far fewer people, I think, realize the role that some other countries have played. The Venezuelan regime of Hugo Chavez, for example, has become a key Iranian partner. And it could have a direct impact on any kind of sanctions that we would try to impose.
Former Costa Rican diplomat, Jaime Daremblum, an expert on Latin American geopolitics, has written that the alliance between Iran and Venezuela represents the greatest threat to hemispheric stability since the Cold War. The two governments have been cooperating on energy, banking and military issues. And the implications of the relationship are quite unnerving.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former State Department official Roger Noriega explains that this alliance -- and I’m quoting now -- “provides the Iranian regime with a clandestine source of uranium, helps it evade restrictions on trade and financing, and gives Middle Eastern terrorists access to weapons for Mr. Chavez’s growing arsenal.” So even if the West is able to implement a sanctions plan with bite, Tehran’s partnership with Caracas might cancel it out. And that’s the dilemma we face.
Iran and Venezuela have also joined petroleum and financial ties. And that could also provide a benefit to Iran against both the banking system sanctions as well as the oil sanctions.
So these are problems that we’ve got to confront, sooner rather than later, if we’re ever to hope to stop the development of the Iranian nuclear program, and to prevent the ultimate sanction, which of course would be military action.
As I said before, had the United Nations imposed strong sanctions on Iran a long time ago, we might not be in the position we’re in today. When it was first found to be in violation of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, I’d be a lot more optimistic about our ability to succeed at sanctions than I am, of course, today. Their economy would’ve been under severe strain for a long time, and the government would’ve had far fewer resources to fund its nuclear program. Sanctions take time to work, which is why we can’t waste any more time.
In conclusion, I think the best way forward on nuclear security, in all of the situations that I’ve discussed here, is of course to follow the Reagan legacy. He said, “We maintain the peace through our strength. Weakness only invites aggression.”
Ladies and gentlemen, what I’d like to do now is to see what’s on your mind, to discuss issues that you believe are important for the few minutes that we have here. And if I can respond to questions, I’m delighted to do that. Thank you again, and thank you, David.
Audience Member: Well, what I took away from what you just said is that we’re -- it’s all a bit like we’re fiddling while Rome burns. And gosh, isn’t that too bad, and shouldn’t we do something about it. And, you know, you mentioned the UN. And I mean, I don’t know about the rest of us in this room -- every time I hear that, I just want to go out and gag. Because it just seems like nothing can be done there.
And, you know, this administration -- and I will bite my tongue, I won’t say what’s really on my mind -- but it’s a shadow play. I don’t know what these people are up to, but this is the frustration that’s driving the Tea Party, that’s growing up. And you know about this, because you’re listening, and you’re hearing it. What’s next? It’s all well to say we need to fight, and we need to get sanctions, and we should’ve prevented Iran from being able to have refined gasoline, and so forth and so on. We’ve heard this a lot.
So what’s the path ahead? What do you see?
Jon Kyl: Well, the primary point of my remarks tonight -- I barely touched on the nuclear weapon issue, our nuclear deterrent, the START Treaty, and some of the other paths on which this administration’s going. But the point of it was to try to demonstrate, at least in one very specific situation, the horrendous results of the feckless policy that our allies have followed and, to some extent, the United States has followed; with the implication being that obviously this sort of thing needs to change.
And my point was even if Iran were not to use the weapon, if it gets it, it can change world history. And it will further diminish United States credibility.
So the question is whether or not the United States has the courage to develop a policy which will confront this kind of threat with strength, as Ronald Reagan said, rather than weakness. We seem to have followed a path of confronting the easy problems -- as I said Barack Obama tends to do -- and kicking the can down the road on the really tough problems, because they are so tough. So Barack Obama likes to talk about achievements in the nuclear area by getting people together and signing statements, or getting a treaty signed with Russia that means virtually nothing; and yet ignores the problem that is most on people’s mind.
I guess my point is to say -- A, elections have consequences; B, this is not a good idea; C, we have to change what we’re doing, and we have to convince others likewise. How do you do that?
Every day, there are things that we can do with both Russia and China that could put pressure on it. China does this. China wakes up in the morning and tries to figure out 300 ways in which it can apply subtle pressure to the United States. And it’s not the elephant biting, as our colleague said earlier; it’s the bites of the fly and the mosquito, and they add up over time. That’s the way they do it. But the United States doesn’t do that.
And so I think we have to make some very big decisions here. Are we going to begin doing that, or not? Well, it could risk relations with these countries. What has Obama done with all of our allies but risk relations with them? Fact, he’s rubbed our allies’ nose in the dirt. And I don’t quite understand the point of dealing with our potential adversaries as he has. Because that hasn’t gotten us anywhere, either.
Just one thing about the United Nations -- I like Barry Goldwater’s old saying about how he thinks that we should give a seat to the Red Chinese, as they were called then, in the United Nations. And somebody said, Barry, what are you talking about, giving a seat to the Red Chinese? He said yes, ours. He didn’t have a lot of confidence in the United Nations, either.
But there are a lot of countries, especially our European allies, who have given up so much of their own sovereignty that they honestly believe that their actions can only be legitimate if the United Nations has blessed the action. And so, they will not join us in sanctions unless they are UN Security Council-approved sanctions. And if they are, then they will.
That’s why the United Nations is important here -- not because I think it’s important or I have any respect for it, but because it’s one of the few ways that we can get some of our allies to go along with us. But there too -- there are things we could do with allies to get them to join us in a coalition of the willing, rather than relying on the very weak sanctions that would come out of the United Nations.
I guess I was trying to make a series of points here. And your point is well taken -- time’s a-wastin’.
Audience Member: As a conservative who has an incredible track record of bipartisan legislation, the question I have is -- in this election year -- where it is as charged, from a partisan standpoint, as I’ve ever seen it in Washington -- yet you’d think the Democrats would want some sort of credentials -- security-wise, terrorism-wise, foreign policy-wise, Iran-wise -- to want to move legislation. It’s encouraging to hear about the legislation you have with Lieberman and Bayh. Is there any chance beyond that, this year, before the election, to do anything on the Hill that’s bipartisan that should or would have to get signed by President Obama?
Jon Kyl: I’m going to argue with the premise of your question just a little bit. These are ideologues. With them, the whole nuclear thing, for example, is theology. If we would only get rid of our nuclear weapons, then everyone else in the world will do that, too. They believe this stuff. And they don’t, I think, see right now that there is a necessity for them to change their approach to this in the Congress in order to gain election victories. Because they’re so tied up in their own little constituencies who believe this stuff, too. So no, I don’t really think that they think that they need some kind of bipartisan cooperation, so that they can show off their national security commitment to their electorate.
You know, Nancy Pelosi’s electorate probably doesn’t care a whole lot about that. And that would be true of several others in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, there are some relatively moderate senators. And those who are up for election are going to lose their elections because they haven’t done enough. But there are too many others that aren’t up for election or, in the case of people like Joe Lieberman, people who are willing to come along with us.
But I don’t see any big, strong pull on the part of the Democrats to join us in reasonable things. Now, they don’t dare vote against -- senators, mostly -- don’t dare vote against the supplemental appropriation bill to fund our military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But you’ll see a bunch of House liberals voting even against that. So the old business about well, at least we support our troops -- even in that area, there are some liberals in the House that won’t even go that far.
The one thing that’s going to catalyze opinion is the START Treaty, when it is submitted. And almost all Democrats will say, Oh, this is a great achievement of Barack Obama, we have to support him for the good of his Presidency, as we did with healthcare. It’s a great way to show the Russians that we are able to work with them. And it will make peace in our time. Because these two great superpowers are reducing our nuclear arsenals. Never mind that the Russians have to get there anyway, because they can’t afford -- in fact, they are at about the level that the treaty calls for the numbers to come down to. All it does is require the US to match what the Russians were going to do anyway. So it doesn’t really achieve anything, it’s not a treaty that we need.
But this is the way that the Left looks at it. And there are a few on the Republican side who will buy into this sort of thing as well.
So other than that issue, I don’t see any great pull to Democrats to have to come our way in a more moderate way, or in a way that emphasizes national security. They just don’t see it that way, which is a testament to where we’ve gotten in this country.
Audience Member: Senator Kyl, for decades after the passage of the Federal Elections Campaign Act, the Republican Congressional Committees typically out-raise their Democratic counterparts by millions of dollars. Starting in about 2000, the DSCC began to out-raise the Senate Congressional Committee. That continues to this day. And now the House Committee, the House Republican Committee, is being out-raised by the DCCC. And now, unfortunately, the Republican National Committee is making headlines for all the bad reasons.
And in light of this, I wanted to ask whether you thought there was something wrong with the National Committee system as it is -- whether it can be fixed, or whether it’s time for conservatives and people who are willing to contribute to Republicans to begin to look beyond the Congressional Committee system in some fashion.
Jon Kyl: Lot of different questions in that.
First of all, let’s separate out the sort of ad hoc situations like the RNC problem that exists today. That’s a problem of leadership. And people are not contributing to the RNC as they did, for obvious reasons. And until that all gets cleaned up, they’re not going to do that. But that is not a broad trend of any kind; that’s a problem of leadership as it exists right now.
The Senatorial Campaign Committee, which I help to raise funds for, is doing just fine. And one of the reasons is because people are now energized. They realize that we have a good opportunity to elect senators from all over the country, in places that we never dreamed we would have a shot -- in California, in Nevada, in Colorado, in Illinois, in Delaware, in Pennsylvania, in many other places. So we’ve been getting a lot of contributions.
And I can’t explain why Democrats have been out-raising us in some of these areas in the past, except to suggest that, first of all, a lot of it has to do with where the American electorate is at any given time. In 2006 and 2008, Republicans weren’t doing so well. And so it was harder for us to raise money. Democrats were on the ascendency; it was easier for them to raise money. Now we’re finding it a lot easier.
Another factor -- there’s been a myth for a long time that the Republican Party is the party of fat cats, that all the money is with us. You know that isn’t true. Here in California, what is Hollywood? There’s a lot of money in Hollywood, and it devotes almost all of its efforts to supporting Democrats. Wall Street, interestingly, is comprised of a lot of very liberal people. And despite the fact that if they voted their pocketbooks they would be supporting Republicans, they tend to support Democrats. Obama got like 65-35 against McCain on Wall Street. And I’ve seen a lot of them come to Washington now, lamenting the fact that they supported Obama. Well, it’s a little bit too late now.
There’s another phenomenon. That is that the other kinds of entities that are contributing to campaigns, like the independent expenditures of people like George Soros, like the labor unions who have been empowered to spend in campaigns, and the other 501 and various other kinds of organizations have cropped up. And it really depends there on who’s willing to step it up. The Swift Boat Veteran group, for example, was funded by a lot of very wealthy people that supported George Bush. Obama had a lot of people that were very wealthy who supported him.
So there are a lot of different things that contribute to this. I tend to think, though, that there’s nothing wrong with the committee structure per se. As I said, the Senate Campaign Committee is doing very well. There are also some conservative groups that are doing all right.
Just one little note of caution here -- we need to be careful that in supporting conservative causes. And I am, first and foremost, a conservative, and then I am a Republican -- but in supporting conservatives, we need to be very careful, for reasons that David pointed out, to appreciate the fact that politics is always about two choices. It’s always compared to what. And you have to be pragmatic about these things. And we should never get into a position where, in supporting a conservative, we know that we are defeating a Republican who can win against a Democrat.
Now sometimes you do that because you want to make a point. You want to lay a foundation. there’s too much difference between the conservative and the other person, the other Republican. There are other times, however, when it’s a lost cause. And the Republican candidate is a perfectly good conservative. And in that case, you need to be a little more pragmatic about it, I would argue.
So I’m supporting some very conservative Republican candidates in primaries where they have other opponents. And some of those opponents may be more conservative. But I’m supporting the candidate who I know can win and I know, as Republican whip in the Senate, will be one of our team. And to me, that’s the critical factor there. A, can you win; and B, will you be a part of the team after you do win?
Audience Member: Senator Kyl, on a scale of one to 10, if we’re unsuccessful in stopping Iran from getting the nuclear bomb, what are the chances that Israel will let that happen and not strike them? In other words, will it -- on a scale of one to 10, will Israel do something about it?
Jon Kyl: I believe Israel will try to do something about it. And the only reason I say “try” is that to some extent, the cooperation by the United States would be important. However, I don’t think Israel would let that stand in its way. And so for people who believe that this would be very bad for Israel -- and it would -- we owe our friends in Israel every ounce of support that we can generate --to oppose this and prevent it from happening in the first place.
Audience Member: Senator Kyl, what is your assessment on all this centralization of government that’s going on? How long will it take to undo it, and is it possible?
Jon Kyl: First of all, I think it is a goal of the Obama Administration to centralize power in the government. They believe that the people of the country are better off if government is making decisions on their behalf rather than having them make decisions. And they believe they are smart enough to make the right decisions for all of Americans. And therefore, the things that you see happening are not happening by accident. They’re part of a design and a plan. And these folks are true believers when it comes to those things.
The President has nominated, as head of CMS -- which is the organization that runs Medicare, part of the Department of Health and Human Services -- a man who’s written extensively and has said that he believes that the American people are not capable of judging for themselves what kind of healthcare to purchase, or insurance or doctors or hospitals, and so on -- that this idea of posting prices and letting them decide what’s best for themselves is the worst possible idea; that they need to have the government make these decisions for them.
He is not alone. That’s not an aberration in this administration. They really believe it, and Barack Obama really believes it. It is the central threat of this administration. Because at the end of the day, that’s what most diminishes our freedom.
And that’s why this healthcare bill, in my view, was the single most damaging bill or piece of legislation in my entire 23 years in Washington, in terms of our lessening of freedom. You can add up, in fact, all of the other legislation that, in one way or another, diminishes our freedom. And I think that a case could be made for the proposition that, added up, they just about equal what this bill will do. And then you add to it the regulatory reform that they’re talking about, the so-called cap and trade legislation; and a variety of other things, and you can see just how far the reach of these folks into our lives would really be.
But they believe that this is the right thing to do. It’s not an accident. We are finally waking up, as David was saying at the table earlier. He’s actually quite optimistic these days. Why would one be optimistic in this setting? Because the American people have finally seen what this beast is really like. You know, it had to get so bad that we would be scared to death of it. And conservatives are now, as David says, scared to death about what they see. And that has awakened us. The Tea Party movement is a part of that. Republican resurgence is another part of that.
And I believe, because of that, that David has a right to be somewhat optimistic, although I would say this. And I tend to be optimistic. But a friend of mine, who’s always pessimistic, said, you know, Jon -- he said, Things are so bad they can’t get any worse. I said, I’m optimistic -- sure, they can!
But the point is that the more these people show what they’re really up to, I think the more the American people are really going to rebel. And to this old idea that the march of the Left toward greater government control and our loss of freedom is always two steps forward and one step back -- in other words, when they’re in power, they always take more, and when we’re in power, we don’t quite take it back to where it started from -- that’s true.
But I see the potential here for the first time, at least in my lifetime, of actually beginning to roll things back. And that’s the second part of your question. It’s hard. I’m not sure exactly how we’re going to do it with healthcare. But if this movement of the American people, rebelling against this greater power-grab by Washington, is real -- and I believe it is -- it represents the beginnings of a new revolution in this country that will begin to decide that Washington cannot be given any more power, and indeed has to give up [much] of the power that it’s already extracted from us. And as a result, we have the opportunity to turn it back. This will require a long, sustained, dedicated effort, however. And I can’t think of a group better able to help lead that charge than this group right here in this room tonight. That’s your charge.
Jon Kyl: Okay, final comment?
Audience Member: Going back to the START (audio gap) and another type of missile crisis happening with them?
Jon Kyl: Well, that’s always a possibility. For one thing, you have people around the world who are willing to share their technology with others. The Pakistanis did this. Russia has always done this -- first with the Chinese, then with the North Koreans, then with countries like Iran and Iraq. You know, the Scud missile -- that’s originally a Russian kind of missile. The nuclear technology that has proliferated -- all of this could easily get to a country like Venezuela. And on our sort of southern shores, this would be a very troublesome event.
We have ignored Hugo Chavez and what’s going on down there for far too long. And by the way, he’s not the only country. A lot of the South American countries and a couple of the Central American countries are going left fast. And we ignore our own hemisphere at our peril.
Let me just close, though, with one little bit of note about the START Treaty itself. You are absolutely right in the way you formulated it, in my view. We give away our strengths. The Russians like to give away their weaknesses.
This treaty was not necessary. We get nothing from it. We give up things as a result of it. The only reason that we needed it is because Barack Obama needed to put another skin on the wall and say, Look what a great achievement I got here. And except for that, it has no meaning, except in the ways that it might constrain us.
And as it is debated, I think you will find that we have reduced our ability to verify and to get intelligence from things that are important to us with respect to Russia. We have undoubtedly reduced the number of our warheads down to a point where there is no more margin of error. And the missile defense issue is a very real one. They lied to us, because there are provisions in the treaty itself that constrain our actions with regard to missile defense.
For example, we cannot convert a Minuteman missile tube, that previously was used for our Minuteman missile, into a tube to contain a missile defense missile. We did that with five of these silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in the past. They are now missile defense tubes. We couldn’t do that in the future. And the administration yet had the you-know-what to say that this treaty doesn’t constrain missile defense in any way. The only reason they could say that is because they didn’t have any current plans to do that. Well, maybe we should do it in the future.
And other, even perhaps more troubling, thing is that the preamble is viewed by the Russians as giving them a basis for withdrawing from the treaty if the United States develops missile defenses in such a way that Russia would consider an imbalance, or that they would be threatened by our missile defense. Well, they could easily conclude that, and they could withdraw from the treaty. They can withdraw from the treaty, anyway.
If George Bush were President, he would say fine, withdraw. But Barack Obama is President. And he’d do anything before he would allow the Russians to withdraw from the treaty, including, I believe, constrain our missile defenses. Now, they’ll deny it, but I believe it. So there are things about this treaty that aren’t good.
But having said all of that, the biggest threat that we have right now is that our nuclear deterrent has atrophied. We’re the only declared nuclear power that doesn’t have a modernization program. We can’t even remanufacture pits. When one goes bad, we can’t replace it with a new one. We need to reinvigorate our nuclear deterrent. We need to get rid of the Manhattan Project era buildings and put new buildings up. We need to create a manufacturing capability to regenerate our supply of good nuclear physicists, and refurbish these warheads. We’re not going to build a new one, we say. We’re not going to test. So we have to make sure that the ones we have will work and are safe.
Doesn’t it make sense, for example, to replace vacuum tubes with a circuit board, or high explosive with insensitive high explosives that won’t go off if you shoot a bullet into, [or] drop it from a high altitude, and so on? We need to change some of the things about our weapons. And we can’t do that without a modernization program.
So Congress said the President had to submit one to us when the START Treaty is submitted. If the administration is serious, if they devote an adequate amount of funding to this -- and we’re only talking about, roughly, $1 billion a year to do this, for about 10 years. And if it is not too constrained in terms of what our scientists are able to do, my belief is that reinvigorating our deterrent capability, modernizing that capability, may be worth more than what is lost in the START Treaty.
At the end of the day -- and Jim Woolsey made this point to me earlier -- he is absolutely right -- it is more important what the President’s positions are, and what the United States’ positions are, backed up by the Congress, than is the language of this particular START Treaty between the US and Russia. And therefore, in my view, it is possible that if the modernization program is really robust, if they are committed to it, and if the treaty turns out not to be any worse than what I think it is right now, that Congress could support the treaty, support the modernization program, and the US comes out ahead.
On the other hand, if the modernization program is not up to what it needs to be, I’m not going to support the treaty, no matter what. So that’s part of the dilemma that the administration has right here. Do you make the modernization program strong enough, so that you have a chance to get the START Treaty passed?
And finally, under no circumstances at all should the United States ever ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the CTBT. That would mean that forever the United States would give up the right to test weapons. And weapons that were designed in the ‘60s and ‘70s cannot last forever. They’ve either got to be modernized, and roll the dice; or tested, so that we know for sure that they work. And at the end of the day, what’s a nuclear deterrent all about? It’s the other side knowing that they work, and that you might use them.