A new START to strengthen national security

September 15, 2010

This week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on ratification of the New START Treaty.  From the beginning of our deliberation, Committee members have sought to answer the question Defense Secretary Robert Gates posed early in this process:  Is the U.S. better off with this treaty or without it?

After a careful and thorough examination, including 12 open and classified hearings, more than 20 expert hearing witnesses, and overwhelming support from across the political spectrum - including the unanimous support of America's military leadership - it is clear that America will be safer and more secure with this treaty than without it.  The New START Treaty will strengthen our country's national security, and a failure to ratify this treaty could lead to serious consequences as we work to protect our country from the threat of nuclear proliferation.

Since the end of the Cold War, the nuclear threat facing our country has evolved.  The danger of a nuclear exchange between the world's two superpowers has subsided, but the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands has increased.  We should not be blind to the catastrophic consequences that nuclear terrorism presents to our world.  The New START Treaty represents a step forward in avoiding that nuclear nightmare.

Together, the U.S. and Russia account for more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons: an arsenal capable of incalculable damage.  As global leaders of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, it is our solemn responsibility to ensure that these weapons and materials do not fall into the wrong hands.

If we are to curb the threat of proliferation and build support in the international community to meet this challenge, we will need to demonstrate to the world that our two nations are serious about responsible and verifiable reductions in our nuclear arsenals.  The New START Treaty accomplishes this objective by limiting the strategic nuclear forces of the U.S. and Russia.  If ratified, the treaty will go far in meeting our ongoing commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and gives us added credibility to leverage all NPT members to meet their own obligations and commitments.

In addition to limiting the number of strategically deployed weapons, the New START Treaty could serve as the foundation for future negotiations on reducing the number of tactical nuclear weapons that experts say pose a potential proliferation threat.  As a number of witnesses testified, agreement with Russia on tactical nuclear weapons will be much more difficult - if not impossible - without ratification of the New START Treaty.

In addition, the New START Treaty will advance U.S. national security by maintaining a credible deterrent for the U.S. and our allies and by guaranteeing verifiable reductions in the numbers of nuclear weapons aimed at our homeland.  This is why seven former commanders of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) wrote to the Senate in July urging the treaty's ratification saying that New START "will enhance American national security."  

The New START Treaty will give us important insight into the Russian nuclear arsenal.  We have now gone more than 280 days without critical intelligence we receive from an on-site verification and monitoring presence in Russia.  With the expiration of the original START Treaty in December 2009, U.S. inspectors lost access to dozens of Russian sites.  If we don't ratify the New START Treaty, we will lose this critical information.  As outgoing STRATCOM Commander, General Kevin Chilton testified, "If we don't get the treaty, [the Russians] are not constrained in their development of force structure and...we have no insight into what they're doing.  So it's the worst of both possible worlds."  In other words, failing to ratify the treaty will put American national security at risk. 

Failure to ratify the treaty would also send a dangerous message to Russia and the rest of the world that the U.S. is abandoning the high ground with respect to nuclear reductions.  Reversing decades of arms control policy would signal to the world that the U.S. no longer stands behind its nuclear commitments and would undermine the basis for our current global non-proliferation regime.

Arms control has a long history of strong bipartisan support in the Senate.  Previous generations of Senate leaders did not allow politics to get in the way of national security.  The threat posed by nuclear terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear materials, and a lack of transparency and access to Russia's nuclear program is too dangerous to delay action any further.  We must do our part to help build a culture of nuclear accountability and transparency.  New START provides that foundation, and the treaty deserves the Senate's ratification this year.


By:  Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Source: The Hill