National Security Network

New START Agreement Essential to U.S. National Security

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Report 31 March 2010

Non-Proliferation russia START


Some specifics have begun to emerge on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty that Presidents Obama and Medvedev will sign on April 8 in Prague.  The completion of the agreement, which is the largest arms control agreement in nearly two decades, demonstrates clear and concrete action in both protecting American security and advancing our global nonproliferation goals while restoring America's international leadership and standing.  This agreement secures significant limits on Russian nuclear forces and secures U.S. access to information about Russian forces.

Prominent national security leaders and foreign policy experts from both sides of the aisle urge its quick passage through the Senate.  Despite the long history of bipartisan backing for nuclear arms control that dates back to the days of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, some extreme conservatives are attempting to politicize the debate in an attempt to deny President Obama a victory.  With negotiations completed and the debate moving to the Senate, efforts to derail this crucial treaty will be both dangerous and put our national security at risk.

Military and civilian leaders agree: START is vital to America's national security interests.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen said of the security challenges we face: "The new START deals directly with some of the most lethal of those common challenges -- our stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons. By dramatically reducing these stockpiles, this treaty achieves a proper balance more in keeping with today's security environment, reducing tensions even as it bolsters nonproliferation efforts. It features a much more effective, transparent verification method that demands quicker data exchanges and notifications. It protects our ability to develop a conventional global strike capability, should that be required. Perhaps more critically, it allows us to deploy and maintain our proven strategic nuclear triad -- bombers, submarines and missiles -- in ways best suited to meeting our security commitments. In other words, through the trust it engenders, the cuts it requires, and the flexibility it preserves, this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we have been charged to do: protect and defend the citizens of the United States. I am as confident in its success as I am in its safeguards."

Strobe Talbott and Steven Pifer of the Brookings institution explain in more detail how the treaty affects U.S. security interests, writing in Politico: "Will the treaty enhance U.S. security? It limits each side to no more than 1550 strategic warheads. The treaty has separate limits of 800 deployed intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments. No more than 700 may be deployed at any one time. These compare to START limits of 6,000 nuclear warheads on 1,600 launchers. The new treaty will cut the current number of Russian strategic weapons that could target the United States by 30-40 percent. That's a good thing. Russia does not pose the kind of nuclear threat that the Soviet Union did during the Cold War, but the safety and security of Americans will be improved when the nuclear potential of our nearest peer competitor is reduced. Moreover, by capping Russian strategic forces for the next decade, the agreement will make the U.S.-Russian nuclear relationship more predictable. That's also a good thing. Washington will know more about Russian nuclear forces with the treaty than without it." [Michael Mullen, 3/29/10. Strobe Talbott and Steven Pifer, Politico, 3/29/10]

There is strong bipartisan support for the New START agreement and its passage through the Senate.  There is a strong legacy of bipartisan support for arms control agreements.  The initial reaction to the New START treaty shows that such support continues:

Former Secretaries of State George P. Schultz and Henry A. Kissinger, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, and former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn: "We strongly endorse the goals of this Treaty, and we hope that after careful and expeditious review that both the United States Senate and the Russian Federal Assembly will be able to ratify the Treaty." [Statement George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, 3/26/10]

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "This treaty strengthens nuclear stability.  It will reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons that both Russia and the United States are permitted to deploy by a third, and maintains an effective verification regime. America's nuclear arsenal remains an important pillar of the U.S. defense posture, both to deter potential adversaries and to reassure more than two dozen allies and partners who rely on our nuclear umbrella for their security. But it is clear that we can accomplish these goals with fewer nuclear weapons.  The reductions in this treaty will not affect the strength of our nuclear triad.  Nor does this treaty limit plans to protect the United States and our allies by improving and deploying missile defense systems." [Robert Gates, 3/26/10]

Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "I know there has been a partisan breakdown in recent years, but we can renew the Senate's bipartisan tradition on arms control and approve ratification of this new treaty in 2010. I know that can happen. This is a moment for statesmanship. As soon as the President sends the agreement to the Senate, we will appeal to all our colleagues to set aside preconceptions and partisanship and consider the treaty on its merits. We can't squander this opportunity to reset both our relations with Russia and our role as the world leader on nuclear nonproliferation. This is a major commitment by both countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals and an important step in solidifying our relationship with Russia. Let's get it done." [John Kerry, 3/26/10]

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "I commend the U.S. and Russian delegations for months of dedicated effort.  I look forward to the President's submission of the new treaty, its protocols, annexes and all associated documents to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification.  I also look forward to working with Chairman Kerry to begin scheduling hearings and briefings for the Foreign Relations Committee so that we can work quickly to achieve ratification of the new treaty." [Richard Lugar, 3/26/10]

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): "I congratulate the President on reaching agreement on the most significant arms-reduction treaty in decades. This is a major step toward realizing President Obama's vision of a nuclear-free world, a vision shared by a predecessor, President Ronald Reagan...This treaty makes significant reductions to the numbers of nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, will renew verification arrangements that would otherwise be unavailable, and provides a major tangible result since the President reset relations with Russia.  I look forward to seeing the details of the treaty in the weeks to come..." [Dianne Feinstein, 3/25/10]

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV): "Nevadans and Americans are concerned about the risk of nuclear terrorism and rogue proliferators, and want leaders in Washington to ensure America's safety.  That's why I commend President Obama for reaching an important agreement with Russia to sign a new START Treaty in April.  Not only will this treaty reduce the amount of Russian nuclear weapons by hundreds, but it comfortably maintains America's nuclear capabilities so that we can keep America secure and deter our adversaries.  I am also pleased that the Administration was able to negotiate this treaty without constraining America's missile defense system in any way.  In addition, this treaty is accompanied by investments of $5 billion over 5 years in America's nuclear security enterprise to ensure that our nuclear deterrent remains safe, secure and effective." [Harry Reid, 3/26/10]

Ambassador Richard Burt, the original Chief START Negotiator during the George H.W. Bush administration: "A year ago Presidents Obama and Medvedev declared their joint commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons.  Today with the conclusion of the new START agreement - the first significant arms reduction agreement in nearly two decades - they took a major step toward achieving their goal of global zero.  This agreement will set the stage for further cuts in US and Russian arsenals and multilateral negotiations for reductions by all nuclear weapons countries." [Richard Burt, 3/26/10]

Extreme conservatives are willing to endanger U.S. national security in order to score political points and deny President Obama another victory. While the final text has not yet been released and the new agreement has yet to either be signed or reach the Senate, some extreme conservatives have reversed their Bush-era support for nuclear negotiations. Their posturing focuses on outdated verification concerns, misconstrues U.S. programs that keep our nuclear deterrent up to date, and incorrectly links START and missile defense. 

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, the never-confirmed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, absurdly proclaimed on Tuesday that the New START agreement would impede U.S. sovereignty.  Reporting on the speech, the Washington Independent highlighted Bolton's most ridiculous assertions.  Bolton argued that advances in arms control would have "a cumulative impact on our sovereignty" - a view that Presidents Reagan, George H.W. and George W. Bush would all reject. The Washington Independent also noted that, "While he declined to address the merits of the treaty - whose text has not yet been released - Bolton said it reflected Obama's ‘almost religious view in the obligations and implications of treaties.' Bolton scoffed at the President's statement that the U.S.-Russian reduction in their countries' nuclear stockpiles, which represent over 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, would strengthen global arms control efforts, and instead suggested that it would spur rogue-state nuclear proliferation." Bolton's comments fall in sharp contradiction to the two decades of bipartisan support to control nuclear weapons.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl have also alleged that the treaty will inhibit U.S. missile defense programs.  As in previous U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreements, the START follow-on will only contain a provision in the preamble that acknowledges the "the interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms." After meeting with President Obama and Senator John Kerry last week, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the Senate Foreign Relations Ranking Republican correctly explained, "'Missile defense will not be part of the treaty, but in the preamble both parties will state their positions and there will be a mention of offense and defense and the importance of those.' He added that because the missile-defense statements were outside the main text, ‘they are in essence editorial opinions.'"  Secretary Gates has also confirmed, "Missile defense is not constrained by this treaty." [Washington Independent, 3/30/10. White House Fact Sheet, 3/26/10. Senator Lugar via The Cable, 3/24/10]

What We're Reading

Suspected suicide bombers killed at least 12 people in Russia's North Caucasus on Wednesday, two days after deadly attacks in Moscow that authorities linked to insurgents from the region.

U.S. forces have begun the initial phases of a political-military offensive in Kandahar and hope to control the city and surrounding areas by late summer.

The Canadian government is examining ways of remaining in Afghanistan after its military mission wraps up next year; Secretary of State Clinton supported the move on a Canadian political talk show.

An award-winning Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared last year under mysterious circumstances has defected to the CIA and been resettled in the United States. Meanwhile, leaders at the G8 summit in Canada turned up the heat on Iran, calling for sanctions to come soon.

The leadership committee of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest political opposition bloc, was preparing to meet today to discuss future co-operation with the El Tagammu Party, a leftist party that has long been inimical to the Brotherhood's Islamist ideology.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's postelection strategy suggests he is prepared for a long and bitter fight to hold on to power, even if it alienates the country's Sunni community and risks new sectarian warfare.

Serbia took a significant step towards a future in the European Union when its MPs last night endorsed a landmark declaration condemning the massacre of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.

The first line of defense against piracy in Western Africa is Nigerians in cheap sandals wielding machine guns with ammo rusted into the chambers.

A suspect arrested in the slaying of a U.S. Consulate official and two other people in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez says the intended target was the diplomat's husband, an El Paso corrections officer.

Chinese officials welcomed warmer ties with Washington after meeting with President Obama, saying they appreciated the President's "positive stance on improving Chinese-US relations."

Commentary of the Day

Robert Pape writes that the Chechen women who bombed the Moscow subway were hardly global jihadists - instead, they were fighting against Russian and pro-Russian Chechen government occupation.

Harold Meyerson argues that China is making hay in the developing world through a combination of throwing its wealth around and arguing that American democracy is little more than a veneer for plutocracy.

Larry Korb says that now is the time for Adm. Mullen and Defense Sec. Gates to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

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