After 20 hearings and more than four months of debate, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is gearing up to vote on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April.
New START reduces surplus U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear warheads, promotes cooperation and transparency in the U.S.-Russian relationship, and demonstrates American support for global efforts to combat nuclear proliferation and terrorism. The Senate should heed the advice of America’s military and diplomatic leadership and approve the New START agreement as soon as possible.
Negotiated as a successor to the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), New START would require the United States and Russia to make modest reductions in their deployed nuclear arsenals. In doing so, the treaty continues a process of cooperative arms control that has spanned the past eight American presidencies. New START would replace the now-defunct verification provisions of the START I treaty, which expired in December 2009. Without New START, we would lose an essential window into the size and make-up of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
For these reasons and more, an impressive list of current and former national security leaders from both parties supports New START. The nation’s top military leadership, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, and STRATCOM Commander Gen. Kevin Chilton, have asserted that New START strengthens U.S. national security. Seven former commanders of U.S. Strategic Air Command and U.S. Strategic Command wrote a letter calling for prompt Senate approval.
In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and the directors of Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia national nuclear laboratories appeared before the Foreign Relations Committee to encourage Senate advice and consent to the treaty. New START has also drawn support from national security veterans like former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker, former Secretaries of Defense James Schlesinger and William Perry, and former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley.
Despite the near-unanimous support for the treaty by high-level validators, most Republicans have yet to take a position on the arms control pact. At the moment, support for the treaty breaks largely on party lines, with all 11 Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as well as Ranking Republican Richard Lugar (IN) in favor of ratification, and Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and James Inhofe (R-OK) opposed. That leaves five committee members–Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), James Risch (R-ID), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Roger Wicker (R-MS)–publicly undecided. According to a vote count, a total of 36 Senators remain undecided on the treaty, which requires at least some of their votes.
Even with midterm elections approaching, our national security shouldn’t be a partisan issue. New START would make America safer by reducing the nuclear threat from Russia without infringing upon our ability to maintain our deterrent or deploy effective missile defenses.
On the other hand, failure to ratify the treaty would leave no verifiable limits on Russia’s still enormous nuclear arsenal. START I expired nearly a year ago. As a result, U.S. on-site monitoring and America’s verification presence in Russia have lapsed. Rejecting New START would undermine the U.S. claim to leadership in reducing nuclear dangers worldwide.
The Senate should approve the treaty this fall. A better deal would be hard to find.