WASHINGTON — Soon after U.S. President Barack Obama came to office, he delivered a speech in Prague in which he said, “I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” He said America has a responsibility to act and to lead.
He then initiated negotiations with the Russians that resulted in a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, what has been labeled a “New START.” This treaty, signed April 8, 2010, by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, has significant advantages for U.S. national security. It is an important next step in U.S.-Russian efforts to lessen the nuclear threat to humanity.
The treaty will accomplish four important objectives. First, it will lower the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons on each side to 1,550 and the number of delivery vehicles to 800 (700 deployed and 100 in reserve). Second, it will restore the verification procedures that expired with the START I agreement in December 2009. Third, it will strengthen our relations with the Russians, and put us on a footing to take future downward steps in the size of nuclear arsenals. Fourth, it will show the world that the U.S. and Russia are serious about their obligations to pursue negotiations in good faith for nuclear disarmament.
Many current and former U.S. military leaders and statesmen have spoken out in favor of the treaty. The commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. Kevin Chilton, has said, “Without New START, we would rapidly lose insight into Russian strategic nuclear force developments and activities, and our force modernization planning and hedging strategy would be more complex and more costly.”
Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, a strong proponent of the treaty, has pointed out, “It is unlikely that Moscow would sustain cooperative efforts indefinitely without the New START Treaty coming into force.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released a statement on Nov. 17, in which he said, “It is vitally important to America’s national security for the Senate to ratify the New START treaty before Congress adjourns this year. We need our inspectors back on the ground and the critical information they can provide about Russia’s nuclear capabilities. Ratification of this treaty would accomplish both.”
So, what is the problem? We have a treaty negotiated and signed by the parties that both sides think benefits them and it benefits the rest of the world at the same time. The treaty should be a slam dunk for Senate ratification, but unfortunately that isn’t the case.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the minority whip, who has been the Republican point person on this treaty in the Senate, is preventing a vote on the treaty. He is doing so despite the fact that the treaty was approved by a vote of 14 to 4 in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September. Sadly, America’s national security is being held hostage by one Republican leader in the Senate.
Kyl has already negotiated a commitment from the White House of over $80 billion for modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next 10 years. This is a high price that is being paid, making many countries and world leaders doubt the sincerity of the U.S. commitment to a world without nuclear weapons. Recently, Obama went even further to sweeten the deal for Kyl by committing an additional $4.1 billion for modernization of the U.S. nuclear complex over the next five years.
The bottom line is that Kyl is playing politics with a treaty that affects the national security interests of the United States. It appears he is trying to prevent a vote on the treaty in the Senate this year, either to embarrass Obama on the world stage or to push its consideration off to 2011 when the new Senate is seated and less likely ratify the treaty.
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org).
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