The Thorough Review of the New START Treaty

Yesterday, the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, General James Cartwright, urged the Senate to approve the New START Treaty, saying “We need START, and we need it badly.” In Washington, dealing with the urgent sometimes trumps dealing with the truly important.  With the Senate’s consideration of New START, the United States Senate has the chance to deal with both, reducing our deployed nuclear weapons, and restoring our ability to effectively monitor Russia’s nuclear arsenal.  But now, some opponents of the Treaty – having failed to find any flaws with the Treaty – claim that they are not being given sufficient time to consider this important agreement.   Some claim that the Senate’s approach to this agreement is inconsistent with how they have been handled in the past. This criticism is wrong, and ignores the facts. 

The New START Treaty is not being rushed at all – it has been before the Senate since May 2010.  In those seven months, the Senate has held 18 hearings, received scores of briefings, and received responses to nearly 1000 questions for the record.  By any measure, this agreement has been thoroughly reviewed.   With the original START agreement having expired last December, it has now been over a year since American experts have been able to inspect Russia’s nuclear forces – creating a less stable relationship between the two countries that control over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.  Senate efforts to delay consideration of the Treaty would only make that situation worse.

The new START Treaty is also being subjected to more extensive review than other arms control agreements in the past two decades.  The original START Treaty was completed in the dying days of the Soviet Union, and had to be amended and expanded to deal with the fact that the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was deployed in four countries (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine).  After being amended, the Treaty was endorsed by the Senate four and one-half months later; action was completed at the end of the congressional session, and just one month before the hotly contested 1992 Presidential election.  Other complex agreements, including the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Treaty on Intermediate Nuclear Forces, were also adopted with less than five months of Senate review.   Treaties to expand the NATO alliance took anywhere from one to three months.

America will be more secure and the world will be safer with New START.  Here too, the facts speak for themselves.  That is why it has been endorsed by President George H.W. Bush, and by every living Secretary of State, representing both political parties.   That is why it has been endorsed by our European allies, including those in Eastern Europe who live right next to Russia.  That is why it is endorsed by our military leaders.  New START, and the way it is being approached by the Senate, is solidly within the mainstream of American national security, and consistent with how the Senate has approached such agreements in the last generation; it deserves the same bipartisan support given to previous agreements.

Ben Rhodes is Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications

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