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The New START Treaty: Where is it now?

May 17, 2010

The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia has generated a lot of news since it was just submitted to the U.S. Senate last week. Yet much of the commentary fails to provide basic details about this important treaty which was originally negotiated in the 1980s and early 1990s under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s presidencies, and ratified in the U.S. Senate in 1992.

The original START treaty allowed for inspections and information sharing between the U.S. and Russia for verification purposes. It also allowed for no more than 6,000 deployed nuclear weapons and no more than 1,600 delivery systems for each country. President George W. Bush chose not to renew that treaty and it expired on December 5, 2009. The verification procedures under the treaty also expired on that date.

President Obama came into office as a strong supporter of START treaty and negotiators from the United States and Russia concluded a new START treaty which was signed by President Obama and President Medvedev of Russia on April 8, 2010. The New START treaty allows for 1550 deployed strategic warheads and for 700 deployed delivery systems in the form of ICBMs, SLBMs, and Heavy Bombers.

The treaty was submitted to the U.S. Senate on May 13. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee begin hearings on the New START treaty in late May with testimony from Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen and then testimony from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. For more information on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing schedule, please visit FCNL’s Nuclear Calendar for an up-to-date schedule and links to webcasts of the hearings.

Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, submitted an op-ed to the Wall Street Journal on May 13th, titled, “The Case for the New START Treaty.” Secretary Gates addresses many of the concerns raised by opponents of the treaty in this article, and he thoroughly makes an argument for ratification of the New START Treaty. He states, “The U.S. is far better off with this treaty than without it. It strengthens the security of the U.S. and our allies and promotes strategic stability between the world’s two major nuclear powers.” Gates also reassures that the treaty will not limit the United States’ missile defense program or prevent the US from deploying conventional weapon defense programs. Secretary Gates concludes his op-ed with this,

The New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America’s military leadership—to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of the service chiefs, and the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, the organization responsible for our strategic nuclear deterrent. For nearly 40 years, treaties to limit or reduce nuclear weapons have been approved by the U.S. Senate by strong bipartisan majorities. This treaty deserves a similar reception and result—on account of the dangerous weapons it reduces, the critical defense capabilities it preserves, the strategic stability it maintains, and, above all, the security it provides to the American people.

As Secretary Gates stated in his op-ed, there needs to be a wide variety of bi-partisan support for the New START Treaty. Currently the treaty has some strong support, however ratification is still a long way off. The current supporters range from current military leaders to former Secretaries of State and Defense. They include former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, and former START negotiator Ambassador Linton Brooks.

Yet New START Treaty still faces strong opposition from Senate Republicans. So, where does that leave the treaty now? The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will continue to hold hearings on the New START treaty through June. Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar have said they hope the Foreign Relations Committee will approve the treaty before the Senate summer recess begins on August 6. Then the challenge will be to persuade the required two-thirds majority in the Senate — 67 votes – to vote in favor of ratification of the treaty. Ratification is possible with your support. Contact your senators to encourage them to support the New START treaty.

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