Senate Committee Passes "New START" Pact

(Sep. 16) -Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), left, and ranking panel Republican Richard Lugar (Ind.), shown last year. The committee today signed off on ratification of a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty, which now awaits approval from the full Senate (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).
(Sep. 16) -Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), left, and ranking panel Republican Richard Lugar (Ind.), shown last year. The committee today signed off on ratification of a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty, which now awaits approval from the full Senate (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images).

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee today approved the "New START" nuclear arms control treaty, sending it to the full chamber for ratification, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Sept. 15).

The vote in favor of the U.S.-Russian pact was 14-4, with three GOP lawmakers supporting the resolution of ratification: panel ranking member Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Senators Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.).

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April signed the agreement. The deal requires the former Cold War adversaries to each cut their deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 warheads, down from the maximum of 2,200 allowed by 2012 under a 2002 agreement. They must both also restrict their active nuclear delivery vehicles to 700, with another 100 platforms allowed in reserve.

The Senate should act on the treaty "as soon as possible," said committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) He said a vote was likely to happen after November's midterm elections.

At least eight Republican senators would need to support the treaty to achieve the 67 votes required for ratification.

"I personally believe we will have the votes to ratify this," Kerry said. In Moscow, there is little doubt that Russian lawmakers would sign off on the pact.

The ratification resolution was prepared by Lugar, who sought to address GOP concerns about the treaty that were not resolved by a draft resolution written by Kerry (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, Sept. 16).

Republican senators have expressed concerns that the treaty would constrain U.S. missile defense activities and could allow Moscow room to breach its obligations, the Associated Press reported. They also pressed the Obama administration to ramp up funding to ensure the viability of the remaining U.S. nuclear complex.

Committee member Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) made it clear during the hearing that his concerns persisted.

"If we are going to move ahead with the commitment not to protect the people of the United States, I think everyone in this country ought to know it," he said.

However, DeMint went on to negotiate behind closed doors with Kerry, Lugar and others a new version of a missile defense amendment that the South Carolina Republican had offered. The committee passed that compromise amendment in a unanimous voice vote, though DeMint was not present for that decision or for the vote on the full ratification resolution.

Kerry said the pact is crucial to the nation's security. Supporters have also noted that placing the treaty into force would allow the United States to once again conduct verification monitoring of Russia's nuclear force. Such inspections were halted following the December 2009 expiration of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Desmond Butler, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Sept. 16).

“By ratifying this treaty, we will limit Russia’s nuclear arsenal,” Kerry said. “We will regain the ability to inspect their nuclear forces. And we will redouble international support for our nonproliferation efforts. At a moment when the world has imposed sanctions on Iran for its nuclear ambitions, this treaty validates American leadership and moves the world an important step closer to reducing the threat from nuclear weapons" (Peter Baker, New York Times, Sept. 16).

September 16, 2010
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The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee today approved the "New START" nuclear arms control treaty, sending it to the full chamber for ratification, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Sept. 15).