Update: Ratifying New START Nuclear Treaty
A major nuclear agreement between the US and Russia, called New START (The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is awaiting approval from the Russian Parliament and US Senate.
The treaty calls for reductions in the sizes of US and Russian nuclear arsenals, as well as an increase in information sharing between the two nations. The original START expired last December, along with the framework it provided for verifying that each nation was in keeping with the agreement. The new agreement will replace the expired one, and the verification measures have provided a backdrop of urgency in ensuring the treaty passes. Since December, there have been no “boots on the ground” inspecting Russian arsenals. Sen. Dick Lugar, a leading Republican in favor of the treaty, had this to say:
Some skeptics have pointed out that Russia may not be in total compliance with its obligations under START. Others have expressed opposition to the START Treaty on the basis that no arms control agreement is 100-percent verifiable. But such concerns fail to appreciate how much information is provided through the exchange of data mandated by the Treaty, on-site inspections, and national technical means. Our experiences over many years have proven the effectiveness of the Treaty’s verification provisions and served to build a basis for confidence between the two countries when doubts arose. The bottom line is that the United States is far safer as a result of those 600 START inspections than we would be without them.
In early April both nations’ leaders signed the document in Prague. It’s currently being considered by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will likely vote to send it to the full Senate in the next few weeks. The real hurdles will be getting a successful vote on the treaty in the full Senate as soon as possible.
This is not a radical treaty. For one, its reductions are fairly modest. Normally this treaty would garner strong bipartisan support. The Senate approved George W. Bush’s Moscow Treaty 95-0 in 2003 and George H. W. Bush’s START agreement 93-6 in 1992. But many in the GOP are keen to deny the Democrats a foreign policy victory just before the November elections and are holding up the process to try to extract concessions to bulk up the already bloated nuclear weapons complex. The Obama administration has offered a whopping $180 billion 10-year increase to funding for nuclear weapons, and it’s unclear exactly how that funding would be used. So some GOP are still looking for funding that is clearly for new nuclear weapons programs, something eschewed in the president’s nuclear posture review, and a development that would contradict the leadership-by-example message the US might send with this treaty.
So the administration has been pulling out the stops to push for the 7 or so votes that hang in the balance for ratification. Secretary Gates and Clinton have both testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in support for the treaty, as has Energy Secretary Chu and Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. If that wasn’t convincing enough, even Cold Warrior Henry Kissinger came before the committee and had this to say :
In deciding on ratification, the concerns need to be measured against the consequences of non-ratification, particularly interrupting a [bilateral arms control] process that has been going on for decades, the relationship to the NPT, and to the attempt to achieve a strategic coherence. And so, for all these reasons, I recommend ratification of this treaty…
In short, this committee’s decision will affect the prospects for peace for a decade or more. It is, by definition, not a bipartisan, but a nonpartisan, challenge…
This START treaty is an evolution of treaties that have been negotiated in previous administrations of both parties. And its principal provisions are an elaboration or a continuation of existing agreements. Therefore, a rejection of them would indicate that a new period of American policy had started that might rely largely on the unilateral reliance of its nuclear weapons, and would therefore create an element of uncertainty in the calculations of both adversaries and allies. And therefore, I think it would have an unsettling impact on the international environment.
One of the red herrings the Republicans are using in the debate is concern that the treaty might reduce US missile defense capabilities. I don’t think it’d be such a bad thing to save a few billion dollars on a missile defense program that still, to this day, shows no promise of working, or even being relevant to our real security concerns. Still, members of the administration and Pentagon officials have been swearing up and down that this treaty won’t limit our plans for missile defense.
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last Thursday, leading US officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the importance of ratifying the START treaty and refuted claims that the new treaty will “limit” U.S. missile defense deployment.
According to Defense Secretary Robert Gates :
We are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations… but such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans.
The Obama administration hopes to ratify START before the November Congressional elections, though some think the vote could occur in a lame duck session after the November election. The Senate could vote as early as August, but it will take real momentum to make sure that happens.
Rebecca Glass contributed to this post.