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June 2, 2022
Day 3 of Senate debate on New START: skeptics' arguments confused and contradictory
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Arms Control NOW

by Daryl G. Kimball

Earlier today, Senator Kyl (R-Ariz.) erroneously claimed on the floor of the Senate that New START's verification system is weaker than the system of the 1991 START treaty.

Such superficial comparisons miss the point and twist the facts. The 1991 START was negotiated in a different time and established different limits on strategic nuclear weapons, and its verification system was different from the more modern New START.

Once upon a time, Kyl couldn't care less about effective verification of deployed warhead limits. During the 2003 Senate floor debate on George W. Bush's 1-page Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, Kyl ridiculed START I and its monitoring provisions as "700-page behemoth" that "would not serve America's real security needs." SORT limits the U.S. and Russia to no more than 2,200 deployed strategic warheads, but provided no verification system to ensure compliance.

Now, in a cynical display of hypocrisy that ignores the judgment of the Intelligence Community and the Secretary of Defense, Kyl now asserts New START can't do the job.

In reality, New START features a more effective, transparent verification system that demands quicker data exchanges and notifications than its predecessor. It modifies or eliminates costly practices not directly relevant for today's post-Cold War needs. New START will also include new and innovative techniques to identify each side's strategic delivery vehicles and verify with high confidence actual warhead deployment levels.

What's more, Kyl misses the main point: without New START we won't have the verification tools we need to confidently assess Russia's strategic nuclear forces, and if we have to rely on national technical means alone, U.S. intelligence assets will have to be redirected toward Russia and away from other regions of concern.

Look for remarks from Sen. Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein on the subject later this afternoon.

McCain, Barrasso May Offer Killer Amendment on Preamble of New START

As many speakers on the floor have noted, New START limits only U.S. and Russian strategic offensive weapons. President Obama rebuffed Russian attempts to insert meaningful limits on future U.S. missile defense options and is pursuing a robust plan to deploy missile interceptors designed to counter short- and medium-range missiles from Iran or North Korea, and if necessary to counter long-range missiles. As previous U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreements did, New START merely acknowledges the offensive-defensive relationship in the nonbinding preamble.

Even President George W. Bush, in a July 22, 2001 press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin, noted that "defensive systems, as well as reduction of offensive systems ... go hand-in-hand...."

As Senator Franken (D-Minn.) outlined in his floor speech this morning, claims that the treaty's nonbinding preambular language on the "interrelationship" between strategic offenses and defenses will limit U.S. missile defense options are bogus. As Henry Kissinger told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 25, 2010, "It's a truism. It is not an obligation."

As Secretary of Defense Gates bluntly said May 18, "the treaty will not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible."

Furthermore, the SFRC resolution of advice and consent clearly states that it is the committee's understanding that "the New START Treaty does not impose any limitations on the deployment of missile defenses" other than the treaty's ban on converting ICBM and SLBM launchers for use by interceptors--which the Pentagon has said it has no intention of doing in any case--and that any further limitations would require Senate approval.

The resolution clarifies that "the April 7, 2010, unilateral statement by the Russian Federation on missile defense does not impose a legal obligation on the United States." It also reaffirms language in the 1999 Missile Defense Act that it is the policy of the United States to deploy an effective national missile defense system "as soon as technologically possible" and that nothing in the treaty limits future planned enhancements to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system or the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

Sens. Lugar (R.-Ind.) and Kerry (D-Mass) have warned that amendments to the treaty itself-whether to the nonbinding preamble or the binding portions-are unnecessary and would effectively require the renegotiation of the treaty, effectively killing the prospects for verifiably limiting Russia's strategic nuclear forces.

Nonetheless, Sens. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and John Barrasso (R.-Idaho) have filed an amendment that would strike the language in the preamble to the treaty "Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties,".

If McCain and Barrasso move forward with the amendment, it should and will be rejected as a not-so-transparent attempt to scuttle the treaty, which would damage U.S. security.