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Senate Begins Hearings on New START

Tom Z. Collina

Seeking Senate approval by year’s end, the White House transmitted the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and related documentation to the Senate May 13. On April 29, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began a series of hearings on the treaty with current and former administration officials, all of whom supported the pact.

In the opening round of the hearings, Democratic committee members and the ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), expressed support for the treaty, as did former officials from the Nixon, Ford, and George H.W. Bush administrations. Republican senators expressed concerns about the potential impact of New START on U.S. ballistic missile defense programs and about the adequacy of proposed investments in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, but stopped short of opposing the treaty.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said at a May 18 hearing he was “confident” that the Senate could reach a bipartisan consensus on the treaty, “just as we did on START I and the Moscow Treaty.” The Senate approved START I in 1992 by a vote of 93-6 and endorsed the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), also known as the Moscow Treaty, in 2003, 95-0.

A congressional aide told reporters May 13 that Kerry intended to complete hearings “in time for the Senate to take up the treaty before the August recess, if it so chooses.” But the staffer said, “[W]hen it actually gets to the floor is something for the leadership on both sides of the aisle to work out.”

President Barack Obama called Russian President Dmitry Medvedev May 13 to inform him that New START was being sent to the Senate, according to a May 13 White House statement. The two leaders “stressed the importance of completing the ratification process in both countries as soon as possible,” the statement said. Medvedev sent New START to the Russian Duma May 28.

The two governments issued a separate joint statement May 13 that said New START, “in effect, marks the final end of the ‘Cold War’ period” and that they expect the new treaty to “pave the way for an increasingly productive and mutually beneficial partnership” between them.

Treaty Transmitted

The treaty package sent to the Senate included a letter of transmittal from Obama to the Senate; a letter of submittal from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Obama; the text of the treaty; the protocol and its annexes; a detailed report prepared by the Department of State analyzing each provision of the treaty known as the “article-by-article analysis;” and the unilateral statements issued by each side at the time of signature, which are not subject to advice and consent. In addition, the administration submitted a report required by section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2010, which calls for a report on the plan to “enhance the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile of the United States, modernize the nuclear weapons complex, and maintain the delivery platforms for nuclear weapons.” Although the report is classified, the White House on May 13 released an unclassified summary.

Over the next decade, the summary says, the administration plans to invest “$80 billion to sustain and modernize the nuclear weapons complex,” in addition to “well over $100 billion in nuclear delivery systems to sustain existing capabilities and modernize some strategic systems.” According to administration budget projections, funding for the nuclear weapons stockpile and infrastructure will rise from $6.4 billion in fiscal year 2010 to $9.0 billion in 2018, if approved by Congress.

Hearings Get Underway

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee began its hearings on New START before the treaty was formally transmitted, receiving testimony April 29 from James Schlesinger, a former secretary of defense and of energy, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry.

In his opening statement, Lugar said he supported the treaty. He is the only Republican senator to have openly endorsed the treaty so far. Others appear to be withholding judgment. “We have just begun the process of evaluation,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), a leading skeptic of the treaty, said in a speech on the Senate floor May 24. “I urge all of my colleagues to refrain from judgments before our process is complete,” he said.

Responding to a question about the implications for U.S. security if the Senate should reject New START, Schlesinger said there would be “a detrimental effect on our ability to influence others with regard to particularly the nonproliferation issue.” Perry was more blunt: “If we fail to ratify this treaty, the United States will have forfeited any right to provide any leadership in this field throughout the world.”

Perry and Schlesinger were chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, which issued its final report last year and endorsed U.S.-Russian efforts to negotiate New START.

At the hearing, Schlesinger said, “I think that it is obligatory for the United States to ratify” New START, adding “any treaty is going to have limitations, questionable areas. There are some in this treaty. We need to watch them for the future, but that does not mean that the treaty should be rejected.”

On May 18, the committee heard testimony from top officials from the Obama administration: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Clinton, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen. Gates argued in his prepared statement that the United States “is better off with this treaty than without it, and I am confident that it is the right agreement for today and for the future.”

Clinton said that “the choice before us is between this treaty and no treaty governing our nuclear security relationship with Russia.” Mullen noted that “we are in our sixth month without a treaty with Russia.”

Lugar urged the administration to accelerate work to complete the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on New START monitoring provisions, asking the witnesses to “devote personal energies to accelerating the timetable” for producing the NIE. Administration and Senate sources said that the NIE is expected by July. It is unlikely that the committee would hold a vote on New START until the NIE has been sent to the Senate.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), addressing Republican concerns about nuclear weapons modernization, said the pledged $80 billion looked like “double-counting” because “much of it is money that was already going to be spent.” He said that “real investment in modernization needs to take place.”

Gates replied, “I’ve been trying for three and a half years to get money for modernization of the nuclear infrastructure. This is the first time I think I have a chance of actually getting some. And, ironically, it’s in connection with an arms control agreement.”

In response to a question from Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Gates said New START would allow 18 inspections annually; START I allowed 28, he said. However, Mullen said, the inspection frequency would actually be higher under the new regime because there are only 27 facilities to be inspected, compared with 73 under START I. That means “there are almost twice as many inspections per facility per year than under the previous treaty,” he said.

Moreover, Gates said, the number of inspections would not actually decline under New START. Ten of the 18 inspections are at sites where nuclear weapons are deployed, and in those, the United States would carry out a single inspection instead of the two separate inspections—one for data updates and one for looking at re-entry vehicles—conducted under the old treaty, he said. “So for all practical purposes, the number of inspections is about the same as it was” under START I, he said.

Differences on Missile Defense

Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), referring to Republican concerns that New START limits U.S. missile defense programs, said, “I think that it’s a really, really good thing to have this treaty, but anything we do to convince the world or suggest to the world that we aren’t going to do everything we possibly can to effect a legitimate [missile] defensive position really, really troubles me.”

Gates, who said he first began working with Russia on strategic arms control 40 years ago, replied that “the Russians have hated missile defense ever since the strategic arms talks began in 1969” and that recent Russian statements are only “the latest chapter in a long line of Russian objections to our proceeding with missile defense, and frankly I think it’s because, particularly in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and probably equally now, it’s because we can afford it and they can’t.”

New START imposes “no limits” on U.S. country-region> missile defense plans, Gates said. He noted that previous U.S.-Russian arms agreements have included unilateral statements by each side. Because the statements are not binding, “the Russians can say what they want,” he said.

The United States and Russia made unilateral statements about the relationship between missile defense and the treaty, as they did with previous treaties. Under START I, the Soviet Union said that U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty would constitute grounds for Russian withdrawal from START I. However, when the United States did withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Russia did not withdraw from START I and, in fact, went on to negotiate a new bilateral treaty, SORT.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) also focused on missile defense, asking, “[I]s it not desirable for us to have a missile defense system that renders [the Russian] threat useless?” Kerry replied, “I don’t personally think so, no,” because “they will build to the point that they feel they can overwhelm your defense.”

Gates added that “the [missile defense] systems that originated and have been funded in the Bush administration as well as in this administration are not focused on trying to render useless Russia’s nuclear capability. That, in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive.”

DeMint asked, “So our ability to protect other countries is a pipe dream, and we don’t even intend to do that, is that true?” Gates said the United States has “missile defense capabilities going up all around the world, but not intended to eliminate the viability of the Russian nuclear capability.”

DeMint asked Clinton if she would allow senators to see the New START negotiating record. Kerry replied that senators did not have access to the negotiating record for START I. Senators did receive the record for the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, he said, but subsequently the committee decided that Senate review of negotiating records was a bad idea. Kerry explained that the committee found “the overall effect of fully exposed negotiations” would be to “weaken the treaty-making process and thereby damage American diplomacy.” As a result, Kerry said, “I think that the rationale that the Senate committee came to previously is a good rationale, and I think it stands today.”

On May 19, the committee heard from former Secretary of State James Baker, who served during the George H.W. Bush administration and helped negotiate START I. Baker said New START “appears to take our country in a direction that can enhance our national security while at the same time reducing the number of nuclear warheads on the planet.” He said the treaty also could improve the U.S.-Russian relationship, which “will be vital if the two countries are to cooperate in order to stem nuclear proliferation in countries such as Iran and North Korea.”

On May 25, the committee heard from Nixon and Ford administration Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said New START “is a modest step forward, stabilizing American and Russian arsenals at a slightly reduced level.” He recommended ratification of the treaty “unless the deliberations of this committee reveal material that is not before me and that I do not anticipate…encountering.”

The committee is expected to hear testimony from New START negotiator Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, in June; the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hear testimony from Clinton, Gates,  Mullen and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu  June 17. The Senate Select Intelligence Committee may hold a hearing as well, congressional sources said.