Top U.S. Negotiator Warns of Risks if “New START” Fails

(Sep. 15) -A nuclear-capable U.S. Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile lifts off in a 1989 test. A failure by the Senate to ratify a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia could harm U.S. strategic security and damage Washington's ties with Moscow, the Obama administration's top negotiator for the pact warned yesterday (U.S. Defense Department photo).
(Sep. 15) -A nuclear-capable U.S. Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile lifts off in a 1989 test. A failure by the Senate to ratify a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia could harm U.S. strategic security and damage Washington's ties with Moscow, the Obama administration's top negotiator for the pact warned yesterday (U.S. Defense Department photo).

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's lead negotiator on a new U.S.-Russian latest nuclear arms control treaty yesterday urged senators to ratify the pact or risk damaging national security and imperiling Washington's relations with Moscow (see GSN, Sept. 14).

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April signed the "New START" agreement. The deal requires the former Cold War adversaries to each cut their deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 warheads and limit their active nuclear delivery vehicles to 700, with another 100 platforms allowed in reserve.

The pact is a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired last December. Since then, there have been zero inspections of Russian nuclear facilities, according to Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller.

"Primarily the concern is that we lose our eyes and ears inside the Russian Federation," she said during a Defense Writers Group breakfast.

Without the treaty's verification regime in place the United States would, over time, lose "certainty" about Russia's strategic nuclear posture and could be forced into "worst-case planning," devoting more money to the nation's atomic arsenal at a time of stretched budgets, Gottemoeller told reporters.

"I think our military leadership would prefer to be concentrating on what's needed for our soldiers in Afghanistan than having to -- through worst-case planning -- pour resources into nuclear forces," she said.

Failure to ratify the pact could also set back U.S.-Russian relations at a time when the Obama administration needs the Kremlin's support for economic sanctions against Iran, according to Gottemoeller.

"There are some perhaps penalties that we would pay in the U.S.-Russia relationship" in terms of working together to slow Iran's nascent nuclear program, she said.

The new treaty must be approved by lawmakers in Moscow and Washington before entering into force. The White House in May formally submitted the agreement to the Senate, where it must garner 67 votes to achieve ratification in the United States. At least eight Republicans would have to vote for the agreement.

Gottemoeller would not speculate on how many votes for approval the Obama administration had locked down, saying only that "we're in a pretty positive place."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) last week distributed to his colleagues a draft resolution for treaty ratification. However, GOP lawmakers said the text did not adequately address their concerns on funding for the U.S. nuclear complex and the pact's possible impact on missile defense strategy (see GSN, Sept. 8).

Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (Ind.), said this week he worked with administration officials and his Senate colleagues on a new ratification document that would be acceptable to all sides.

The committee is slated to hold a business meeting Thursday during which members could vote on the ratification resolution. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said yesterday he would support Lugar's resolution as long as it was not "weakened through amendments," Bloomberg reported. That suggests that at least two of the committee's Republican senators were prepared to vote in favor of the treaty.

Gottemoeller refused to comment on either draft resolution. "They will continue to evolve over the next couple of days and we'll see what comes out on Thursday," she said.

It is unclear when the full chamber would decide on the treaty. Kerry said a vote could take place during a lame-duck session of Congress following the November midterm election, when the climate in Washington has cooled, Foreign Policy reported.

Gottemoeller told reporters she hoped the entire Senate would act on the treaty in the next few weeks. She stopped short, though, of predicting that a floor vote would happen before the Nov. 2 election as she did Monday during an event at Georgetown University.

"We have the midterm elections in November. Nevertheless, this is a moment for a detente on foreign policy between the two parties," she said yesterday. Once the agreement is ratified, it would be another 60 days before it entered into force.

U.S. leadership on the world stage could be harmed should the treaty die in the Senate, as the president has placed so much emphasis on the issue of nuclear nonproliferation, according to Gottemoeller.

September 15, 2010
About

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration's lead negotiator on a new U.S.-Russian latest nuclear arms control treaty yesterday urged senators to ratify the pact or risk damaging national security and imperiling Washington's relations with Moscow (see GSN, Sept. 14).