Volume 1, Number 33, November 17, 2010
Yesterday, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) issued an equivocal statement about the possibility of scheduling time for a floor debate and a vote on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which U.S. military officials including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen has called "essential to our future security."
Numerous other current and former military officials, including seven former U.S. strategic commanders, are urging prompt Senate approval for ratification of New START.
In the following op-ed, Maj. Gen. William Burns (U.S. Army, Ret.) outlines the reasons why New START is clearly in the U.S. national security interest. Burns, who was the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, notes:
"Treaties require careful consideration, but senators have had all the information and time necessary to reach a decision on New START. The Senate must approve New START, and quickly. The U.S. and Russia have made significant progress in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons for decades, and it's made our world safer. This is no time to stop."
The full op-ed by General Burns is reproduced below.
Get STARTed: Senate must ratify U.S.-Russia arms control treaty
By Maj. Gen. William F. Burns
The Palm Beach Post, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010
Congress has to take care of some crucial business by Dec. 31. One priority is consideration of New START - a United States-Russia treaty that could significantly reduce the threat to global security posed by nuclear weapons. The Senate must put the tough election behind and put U.S. national security first by approving the treaty.
The treaty would require Russia and the U.S. to trim their nuclear arsenals to no more than 1,550 strategic warheads each - 30 percent below current limits. Time is of the essence. The START I pact, which Presidents Reagan and Bush negotiated, expired in December 2009. Since then, U.S. officials have been unable to conduct on-site inspections of Russian long-range nuclear bases. For the previous 15 years, U.S. officials were on the ground every few weeks. Showing up with only a day's notice, they peered into underground silos and submarine bases to verify that Russia was meeting the treaty limits.
Without Senate approval of New START, those inspections will not resume. As the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, testified: "If we don't get the treaty, (a) the Russians are not constrained in their development of force structure, and (b) we have no insight into what they're doing. So, it's the worst of both possible worlds."
Further, other countries may interpret Senate dithering on New START, which was signed in April, as a sign that the U.S. isn't serious about controlling nuclear weapons. Since April, a vast, bipartisan array of experts - including four secretaries of state, four secretaries of defense, three national security advisers, seven Strategic Command chiefs and all three leaders of the nation's nuclear labs - have urged ratification. And New START has what Defense Secretary Robert Gates termed "the unanimous support of America's military leadership."
Treaties require careful consideration, but senators have had all the information and time necessary to reach a decision on New START. The Senate held 21 hearings and briefings, and the White House answered more than 900 questions from senators. In September, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended ratification with a bipartisan 14-4 vote.
Unfortunately, some senators continue to urge delay. They erroneously believe that New START would constrain U.S. missile defense because the treaty prohibits both countries from converting offensive missile silos into missile defense launchers. Mr. Gates has made it clear that the U.S. military has no interest in making such conversions. Further, it's far less expensive to build a ground-based interceptor silo from scratch than to convert an existing silo.
Concerns about maintaining the existing U.S. nuclear stockpile also have been addressed. The Obama administration has budgeted $80 billion to maintain and update our nuclear weapons and infrastructure over the next decade, a 15 percent increase that the directors of the weapons labs agree is more than sufficient. The administration also has outlined a $100 billion plan to modernize the submarines, missiles and bombers that carry nuclear
Still, some skeptics refuse to budge. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., Tuesday opposed any vote on the treaty, perhaps to extract even more funding to "modernize" our nuclear arsenal. Such tactics are unhelpful and unnecessary. Mr. Obama's $7 billion request for nuclear weapons maintenance and infrastructure in fiscal year 2011 is 10 percent higher than it was in the final year of the Bush administration. And if there are cost overruns for weapons maintenance, lawmakers can revise the budget.
The Senate must approve New START, and quickly. The U.S. and Russia have made significant progress in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons for decades, and it's made our world safer. This is no time to stop.
Maj. Gen. William F. Burns, retired from the Army, was director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1988 to 1989. He is a distinguished fellow at the Army War College.