National Security Network

Confusing Politics, Clear Facts

Print this page
Report 17 November 2010



The politics of New START are confusing, but the national security facts are not. 

America's entire military leadership, and dozens of senior, bipartisan national security figures, continue to stress the importance of ratifying New START this year.  The original START Treaty - and its extensive verification regime - expired last year, leaving strategic stability between the world's two largest nuclear powers, and the prospect of significant cuts to Russia's arsenal, in the balance. 

Yesterday, Sen. Kyl (R-AZ) cast doubt on the ratification process - but this morning he tells CNN, "We're talking. In good faith," while Sen. Lugar (R-IN) issued a call to action:  "We're talking today about the national security of the United States of America," he said. "We're at a point where we're unlikely to have either the treaty or modernization unless we get real."  Military and national security leaders reiterated the nonpartisan case for action - get boots back on the ground to inspect Russian nuclear facilities.  Senators must put partisan politics aside and find the time to ratify New START. 

Military and national security experts agree:  New START is an urgent national security priority. 

Eight retired generals and admirals wrote yesterday:  "The New START Treaty is in the best interest of our national security - our top national security leaders, including all of the serving military leadership, support this Treaty... It puts boots back on the ground - verifying Russian strategic nuclear weapons, and creates stability between our nuclear forces. We believe that this Treaty should be ratified as soon as possible." [Consensus for American Security, 11/17/10]

Sen. Lugar announced this morning:  "I believe it is critical that we get this treaty done in the remaining weeks of this Congress for three reasons.  First, the START I Treaty expired December 5, 2009. As Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen have stated, we need the process of inspections and transparency to resume. We need inspections of Russian strategic forces. There is no credible reason for us to remain blind.  Second, we need both the New START Treaty and modernization now, but the current course risks getting neither... I am concerned that the reasonable agreement Republicans have achieved with the Administration, reflected in plans provided to Congress, and among liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, may break apart if we do not get this treaty done this year... Third, we need New START if we are to continue our joint efforts with Russia under the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program..." [Sen. Lugar, 11/17/10]

Robert Kagan: "There's no getting around it: Failure to pass START will help empower Putin . . . On Iran, Russia will become less cooperative . . . Russia's refusal to deliver the S-300 air defense system to Tehran and its earlier agreement to allow the U.S. military to ship material to Afghanistan across Russian territory have been the reset's big tangible payoffs."  [Robert Kagan, 11/12/10]

Vice President Joe Biden laid out the consequences of delay: "Failure to pass the New START Treaty this year would endanger our national security. Without ratification of this Treaty, we will have no Americans on the ground to inspect Russia's nuclear activities, no verification regime to track Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal, less cooperation between the two nations that account for 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, and no verified nuclear reductions. The New START treaty is a fundamental part of our relationship with Russia, which has been critical to our ability to supply our troops in Afghanistan and to impose and enforce strong sanctions on the Iranian government." [Joe Biden, via Time, 11/16/10]

Door to lame duck ratification has not closed.  Sen. Kerry confirmed, "I talked with Senator Kyl today and I do not believe the door is closed to considering New START during the lame duck session.  I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Lugar, Senator Kyl, our colleagues, and the Administration to get the New START treaty ratified by the Senate this year.  Ratifying New START is not a political choice, it's a national security imperative."

A group of U.S. Senators also came together yesterday to call upon their colleagues to move ahead with New START.  They wrote, "The treaty has earned the unanimous backing of America's military leadership, including the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the commander of our nation's strategic forces, and the director of the Missile Defense Agency.  America's military was joined in their support by six former secretaries of state, five former secretaries of defense, the chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, and seven former commanders of U.S. Strategic Command.  National security experts from both parties and from seven former presidential administrations urged the Senate to approve this treaty.

"Since the previous START Treaty expired last December, the United States has been unable to inspect Russia's nuclear arsenal and obtain vital intelligence for American military planners.  The New START Treaty would allow these critical inspections to resume and would make sure that the U.S. can - in the words of former President Ronald Reagan - ‘Trust, but verify' Russia's nuclear commitments."  [Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), 11/16/10]

[John Kerry, via Time, 11/16/10]

Even Sen. Kyl was once worried about our ability to monitor Russia's nuclear arsenal.  A year ago, after returning from a trip to Geneva where New START negotiations were taking place, Sen. Kyl warned,  "For the first time in 15 years, an extensive set of verification, notification, elimination and other confidence building measures will expire.  The U.S. will lose a significant source of information that has allowed it to have confidence in its ability to understand Russian strategic nuclear forces; likewise, the Russian Federation will lose information about U.S. nuclear forces... I don't say this lightly, but, this borders on malpractice."   

This is precisely the reason members of the Consensus for American Security - a group of America's top national security experts and military leaders - recently wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urging quick ratification because of the lapse in verification measures: "As retired military officers and national security experts who have spent our careers dedicated to protecting the security of the United States, we respectfully request you commit to a full Senate vote on ratification of the New START Treaty before the end of this year. Building on the vision of previous presidents from both parties, New START allows us to invest in the nuclear security priorities necessary to confront the threats of today and tomorrow. The treaty offers a streamlined and modern verification system that demands quicker and more transparent inspections and information exchanges, bringing new weight to ‘trust but verify.'  With New START in force, America will be safer.  Currently, we have no verification regime to account for Russia's strategic nuclear weapons. [Three hundred and forty seven (347)] days have elapsed since American teams have been allowed to inspect Russian nuclear forces, and we are concerned that further inaction will bring unacceptable lapses in U.S. intelligence about Russia's strategic arsenal.  Without New START, we believe that the United States is less secure." [Sen. Kyl, 11/23/09. CAS Letter, 9/28/10. CAS, 11/10/10]

What We're Reading

Defense Secretary Gates reiterated his opposition to a military strike on Iran, suggesting it would only unite popular support around the regime, and said that new sanctions led by the Obama administration are causing divisions within the Iranian leadership.

The White House sought to ease tensions with Hamid Karzai, promising to gradually give Afghans greater control over Special Operations missions that the Afghan president has sharply criticized.

The U.S. is preparing for an expanded campaign against al Qaeda in Yemen, mobilizing military and intelligence resources to enable Yemeni and American strikes and drawing up a longer-term proposal to establish Yemeni bases in remote areas where militants operate.

Turkey has signaled it is open to participating in U.S.-led plans for a NATO missile defense shield, but only if Ankara is given significant control over the project.

Thailand has extradited alleged Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to the United States to face trial on terrorism charges.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III traveled to Silicon Valley to meet with top executives of several technology firms about a proposal to make it easier to wiretap Internet users.

The United Nations hopes to boost the number of peacekeepers in Sudan amid fears that Africa's largest country could be headed for a new civil war after its January 2011 referendum on whether oil-producing southern Sudan should secede from the north.

The death toll from Haiti's cholera epidemic has passed 1,000.

If a Middle East peace deal isn't achieved soon, the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank could collapse and give way to more radical Hamas militants, backed by Iran and Syria, who already rule the Gaza Strip.

Despite a relatively good autumn harvest in North Korea, the reclusive communist nation remains in dire need of food aid, especially for its youngest children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Commentary of the Day

John Shattuck writes that by providing an honest characterization of U.S. human rights flaws to the UN, we help other nations admit their own deficiencies.

Kenneth Weisbrode argues that soon the U.S. will have to choose between a West-centric foreign policy and a multi-lateral approach that encompasses the emerging economies.

Noah Shachtman believes that the government is going too far with its technological reliance on protecting airport security.