Key Panel Plans August Vote on New START
Seeking to finish its work by the August recess, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held five hearings on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in June.
The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing as well, its first since the treaty was transmitted to the Senate May 13.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and ranking member Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said in a June 10 statement they plan to hold a committee vote on New START “prior to the August recess,” which is scheduled to begin Aug. 9. Kerry said he and Lugar were “confident that our colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join us in supporting the treaty to strengthen our national security.”
The committee is unlikely to hold its vote until the
To date, Lugar is the sole Republican senator to endorse New START publicly. Republican senators James Inhofe (
Sending a treaty out of committee to the full Senate requires only a simple majority. That step of the process is therefore not in doubt for New START, but administration sources say they would like to attract Republican votes on the committee beyond Lugar’s to show significant bipartisan support before the treaty gets to the Senate floor, where a two-thirds majority is needed for approval. Obama administration officials have said they hope to schedule the floor vote before the November elections, possibly before the August recess, but no date has been set.
After meeting at the White House with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev June 24, President Barack Obama said at a press conference that they had “reaffirmed our commitment to work to ratify [New START] as soon as possible so it can enter into force and set the stage for further cuts and cooperation.”
On June 10, the Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony favoring the treaty from retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, and Stephen J. Hadley, national security adviser to President George W. Bush. In response to a question, Scowcroft said that if the treaty were rejected by the Senate, the result “would be to throw the whole nuclear negotiating situation into a state of chaos.” Hadley said that New START makes a “modest but nonetheless useful contribution to the national security of the
Several other senior former national security officials from Republican administrations, including former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker, have testified in support of New START. Frank Carlucci and George Shultz, President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of defense and secretary of state, respectively, endorsed the treaty in a joint statement with a bipartisan group of 28 other former officials released June 24 by the Partnership for a Secure America. Other endorsers included Colin Powell, President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, and former Republican senators Howard Baker (
In contrast, sitting Republican senators other than Lugar, Inhofe, and DeMint are taking a wait-and-see approach while asking pointed questions, primarily about how New START relates to missile defense and the modernization of the nuclear stockpile and weapons complex.
McCain Joins Missile Defense Fray
Republican senators continued to question administration and outside witnesses about why New START includes legally binding language that relates to missile defense and what it means for the future of
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton replied that the Russians were concerned that U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos that are no longer operational, of which there are about 100, would be converted for use by missile defense interceptors, “and we said no, we had no intention of continuing with the conversion.” Five ICBM silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in
“It seemed to us to be a smart negotiating decision to put something in that, frankly, we never intended to pursue,”
As to why the five ICBM silos at Vandenberg had been converted in the first place, Missile Defense Agency (MDA) Director Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly testified before the Foreign Relations Committee June 16 that the
Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified June 17 that the use of missile silos for more than one purpose could be destabilizing by creating confusion on the part of
McCain also questioned the wisdom of the treaty’s preamble, which, like the preamble to START I, acknowledges the interrelationship between strategic offensive and defensive forces. McCain said he needs “to be confident that the treaty in no way limits the administration’s ability and willingness to deploy missile defense capabilities, regardless of the statements made by the Russian government.” During an April 9 interview, McCain quoted Medvedev’s remarks, in which he referred to the preamble’s language on missile defense and said, “[I]f these circumstances will change, then we would consider it a reason to jeopardize the whole agreement.”
McCain argued that “it’s clear from many statements that Russian leadership has made that there is a very different interpretation of this treaty from what has been stated here concerning the connection to missile defense systems.” Numerous Republican senators have voiced the concern that the Obama administration would be self-deterred from deploying missiles defenses that might prompt Russian withdrawal from New START.
At the June 17 hearing, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) noted that the
Gates said he would recommend deployment. “[T]he SM-3 Block IIB would give us the ability to protect our troops, our bases, our facilities, and our allies in
Russian officials have long said they fear that a
Republican senators have asked why
As to why a defense against massive Russian attack would be cost prohibitive, O’Reilly said June 16 that defense doctrines require two to four missile defense interceptors to be launched at each target. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service,
Skepticism on Modernization Funding
As part of the administration’s transmittal of New START to the Senate, section 1251 of the fiscal year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act required a report on the plan for modernizing the nuclear weapons complex and upgrading nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles. A public summary of the classified report states that the administration plans to invest $80 billion over the next decade in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear stockpile and weapons complex budget and “well over” $100 billion in the Pentagon’s nuclear delivery systems.
At the Armed Services Committee hearing, McCain said he was “skeptical that the 10-year funding plan for NNSA adequately addresses the recapitalization needs of the weapons complex.” The $80 billion “is certainly a substantial sum,” but “only a fraction of that amount is actually above what would be allocated simply to sustain the current stockpile,” he said.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), also up for re-election and whose state borders strategic missile and bomber bases in
Gates replied that decisions have not yet been made on how the administration is going to modernize the long-range bomber force or the ICBM force. “We are in the process,” said Gates. “We have money in the budget for a new nuclear reactor for the Navy for the next-generation nuclear submarine. So we are on track in that particular area of modernization.”
Gates added, “I’ve been up here for the last four springs trying to get money for this, and this is the first time, I think, I’ve got a fair shot of actually getting money for our nuclear arsenal.”
Rail-Mobile Missiles Covered
Some critics of New START have said that if
At the June 10 hearing, Hadley also raised concerns about rail-mobile missiles, but after an exchange with Kerry, he agreed that “the way out of this” is to “emphasize the breadth of that language that would seem to catch any launcher even if it was on a rail platform.”
Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in the George W. Bush administration, testified June 24, “To me, it is inconceivable that, should
The Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees plan to hold additional hearings in July, with testimony from the directors of the
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