Senate Republicans ask: What’s the hurry on the new START treaty?

August 2, 2010

When it comes to ratifying President Obama’s nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Russians, Senate Republicans say: don’t rush us.

Obama has said he would like to see the Senate ratify the new START treaty with Moscow this year. But he will need some Republican support to get the 67 votes required for ratification. And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans don’t yet have the answers to their questions about the agreement and related concerns about how much money will be spent modernizing U.S. nuclear forces.

“The only way this treaty gets in trouble is if it’s rushed,” McConnell said in an interview with Reuters. “My advice to the president was, don’t try to jam it, answer all the requests, and let’s take our time and do it right,” he said.RUSSIA/

The new START treaty would cut the arsenals of deployed nuclear warheads in the United States and Russia by about 30 percent.

McConnell said he had not yet decided how he would vote on the treaty, but that he would be strongly influenced by whatever Senator Jon Kyl, the Republican whip, decides. Kyl is considered something of an expert on nuclear weapons.

Kyl is pushing the administration to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The White House has proposed spending over $80 billion to do this over the next ten years. But McConnell suggested that some evidence of the administration’s commitment will need to be written into appropriations bills pending in Congress to convince Kyl.

“All they have to do is find enough money to satisfy Senator Kyl that they are prepared to do what they said they would do,” he said.  “If it’s important to you, you can find a way, in an over a trillion dollar discretionary budget to fund it. In my view they need to do that, because without that I think the chances of ratification are pretty slim,” McConnell said.

With the treaty not even out of committee yet and an August recess looming, there’s little time left on the Senate calendar before November congressional elections. But from Obama’s perspective, waiting until after the elections could make ratification tougher. In the next Congress, there may be more Republicans in the Senate (there are 41 now, versus 57 Democrats and two independents who normally vote with them)

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Picture credit: Reuters/Ria Novosti (Russian President Medvedev watches naval exercises aboard nuclear missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky in July)

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Sen. Mitch McConnell asserts that the Senate needs more time to consider the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, but nothing could be further from the truth. The treaty was signed more than a year ago, and the Senate has held at least 20 hearings on it. It is supported by an impressive number of members of the Republican foreign policy establishment, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Shultz,James Baker and Colin Powell; former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger; and former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The text of the treaty places no limits on U.S. development of missile defenses, and, as noted in the article, the Obama administration will seek substantial increases in funding for the nuclear weapons complex in parallel with the implementation of the treaty. Last but not least, there is real urgency to ratifying the treaty as soon as possible. When the prior START agreement lapsed last December, the elaborate system of verification measures that allowed the United States to keep close tabs on Russian nuclear developments lapsed as well. As seven former heads of the Strategic Air Command and the U.S. Strategic Command noted in a recent letter to Congress, we will know more about Russia’s nuclear program with New START than without it — a significant benefit to our security. The time to ratify New START is now.

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