“The rejection of New START has the real potential to push the world into a state of nuclear anarchy,” warned CAP Distinguished Senior Fellow and former Senator Tom Daschle in a moving speech Monday morning on the importance of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also called New START, to national and international security.
New START, which President Barack Obama and Russia President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April, is currently pending Senate ratification. The treaty updates the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty negotiated by President Ronald Reagan, which expired last year.
Daschle argued that failure to ratify the treaty not only would blind the United States to Russia’s nuclear activities but would also undermine international support for cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation and especially for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He blamed conservative opposition to New START on partisan politics, pointing to the long history of bipartisan agreement on the previous START and the unanimous support of senior military officials.
The bilateral treaty provides for mutual reductions in redundant strategic nuclear arms by each country. The treaty’s verification scheme creates transparency so that each country can be assured of the other’s honesty, including allowing inspectors of each country to monitor the other’s disarmament activities. The first START treaty has enabled an 8 percent reduction in nuclear weapons in the 15 years in which it has been enforced.
“If you have any doubts about what the Russians are doing, you should be voting for this treaty. You want U.S. inspectors back in Russia as soon as possible,” said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to nuclear disarmament. Cirincione joined Daschle after his remarks for a conversation moderated by CAP President and CEO John Podesta.
The debate over New START occurs amid increasing international momentum for the regulation of nuclear weapons. Forty-seven nations committed to lock down loose nuclear materials at a nuclear security summit the United States hosted in April, which will make it much more difficult for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons. And in May the president secured recommitments from all parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, at the treaty’s review conference in New York. The previous review of the NPT five years ago had ended in division and doubts about the treaty’s future.
The administration also won sanctions from the U.N. Security Council against Iran directed at halting that country’s nuclear weapons program. Daschle and Cirincione agreed that ratifying New START was critical to maintaining international pressure on Tehran. Failure to ratify to the treaty would, they argued, lead to doubts among our allies about our commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation and strengthen Iran’s position.
“American credibility on nuclear issues would evaporate,” Daschle said, adding that problems might not be limited to Iran in the long term. “Countries belonging to the NPT would ask a very simple question: ‘If the U.S. is unwilling to live up to its commitments, why should we live up to ours?’”
Experts, diplomats, and military commanders agree that ratifying and enforcing New START is vital. Testimony from 17 senatorial hearings on New START offers what Daschle called “almost a universal expression of urgency” for ratification.
This consensus is unsurprising given that the treaty contains no significant departures from the old START, a popular and effective treaty that President Ronald Reagan began negotiating in the early 1980s—almost 30 years ago. President George H.W. Bush signed the treaty, and the Senate ratified it with a vote of 93-6.
Regarding current objections to New START, Daschle said, “The obstacles today to reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world, the obstacles to increasing this country’s national security, the obstacles to continuing down the path that President Reagan himself first cleared—they are entirely political.”
He pointed to a July 6 editorial in The Washington Post by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The treaty does not limit American missile defense capabilities as Romney suggested, said Daschle. Indeed, U.S. Missile Defense Agency chief Gen. Patrick O’Reilly testified that ratification would improve American missile defense by allowing it to focus on threats other than Russia, notably Iran.
Others have argued that the treaty should be rejected because it is not expansive enough, omitting reference to tactical nuclear arms and omitting China from negotiations. But the treaty, a bilateral agreement on strategic arms, was never meant to be comprehensive. It provides a foundation between the world’s two greatest nuclear powers for agreements with other countries and on other kinds of weapons.
“These claims are being made at the expense of a sober evaluation of the real risks to our national security and how our government should respond to them,” said Daschle.