Report

Senate Consideration of New START: The Battle for Ratification

Senate Consideration of New START: The Battle for Ratification

Save to My Resources

Want to dive deeper?

Visit the Education Center

Sophie Walker

The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

On April 8, 2010, President Barack Obama and President Dmitri Medvedev signed the New START agreement, a long-negotiated successor to the 1991 START Treaty. This landmark agreement is already facing its next battle—U.S. Senate approval for ratification. The debate in the Senate is already in full swing, centering on Republican concerns about modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and perceived restrictions on strategic missile defense.

The Obama administration, however, is confident that it can get the bilateral agreement through the Senate during 2010 or early 2011. The timeline varies depending on the official. The "goal is to submit the treaty in the late spring and to seek ratification by the end of the year," Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher stated on March 29 while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on April 13 that, "It may take until the first of the year to get it done" and Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation and the lead U.S. negotiator, said on April 26 that "we hope we can carry it through this summer".[2]

Approval of the new treaty requires that a resolution of ratification be supported by at least a two-thirds majority (67 votes) in the Senate. It is widely assumed that all 57 Democrats will vote in favor of ratification, which would be 10 votes short of approval, turning the spotlight on Republican and independent lawmakers. Moderate Republican senators and those who have supported arms control treaties previously will be crucial to supporting ratification. Republican senators, along with independent Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), have repeatedly raised concerns about whether the Obama administration is prepared to make sufficient investments in modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons and the complex of laboratories and facilities that support them, and about perceived limitations to U.S. missile defenses.

This brief will outline the ratification process and the issues which will likely comprise the substance of the Senate debate on New START. It will then address some political concerns and historic tendencies which could affect the likelihood of the Senate providing its consent to ratifying the new agreement.

Negotiating the Process towards Ratification

The administration plans to submit a package to the Senate including the treaty, its protocol and technical annexes by the end of April.[3] According to Tauscher, the treaty and protocol were finished as of March 30, but are undergoing an exacting process to ensure that the Russian and English versions of the agreements are equivalent in meaning. The annexes are still being negotiated and are expected to include details about verification procedures and hardware covered under the treaty.[4] The administration will also need time to prepare an article-by-article analysis of the treaty which it will submit, along with the other texts, in a formal treaty document.

Once submitted, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take the lead in addressing the treaty. The committee will first discuss the background and history of arms control, followed by hearings on the treaty itself with witnesses from the administration and the nongovernmental community.[5] It is possible that the timing of these hearings could be affected by the review conference for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in May, since the administration may want to avoid divisive domestic discussions on the new START agreement at the same time. The Armed Services and Intelligence committees could also hold hearings on the treaty.

Following these hearings, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will draft and vote on a resolution of ratification, the document on which the Senate will actually vote. The committee and the full Senate can attach conditions, reservations, understandings, and declarations on subjects related to the treaty, such as missile defense or future arms control treaties with Russia.[6] Given the committee's Democratic majority, it is likely that the treaty will clear the committee. It is also likely that it will gain some Republican support along the way, including that of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the committee's ranking Republican member. Lugar, a long-time champion of U.S.-Russian arms control, has endorsed the treaty, saying in a March 26 statement that he looks forward "to working with Chairman [John F.] Kerry [D-MA] to begin scheduling hearings and briefings for the Foreign Relations Committee so that we can work quickly to achieve ratification of the new treaty."[7] Other Republican members, such as Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), have indicated general support for a new agreement.

The Senate Debate

If the resolution for ratification is approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and submitted to the Senate, debate in the full Senate can commence. The debate is likely to focus on attaining adequate Republican support to pass the resolution, and the conditions, reservations, understandings and declarations that Democrats are prepared to accept to win that support. The timing of this vote will be affected by the crowded election year calendar and may result in a vote during the lame duck session following the November 2010 mid-term elections. Additionally, the timing could be affected by the potential need to approve an increase in modernization funds, which Republicans may make a precondition for their support of the treaty.

The Issues in the Debate

Republicans have consistently expressed concern that New START would limit the deployment of U.S. missile defenses, particularly those in Europe, given vehement Russian concerns about their deployment. In September 2009, the Obama administration announced that it would replace plans made under the George W. Bush administration to build a radar site in the Czech Republic and launchers for long-range missile interceptors in Poland to protect against the potential Iranian nuclear threat with a plan to deploy existing missile defense systems to Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean over the next two years.[8] This move seemed to blunt Russian criticism; however, the issue was revived in February when the Obama administration announced that Romania would host the first deployment of SM-3 land-based interceptors in 2015 and Poland would host the next site in 2018.[9]

Russia's concerns about missile defenses led to some of the final controversy over the treaty in which the U.S. insisted that it would not accept any constraints to its missile defense deployment. However, this has not alleviated many domestic U.S. concerns. A March 15 letter to President Obama from Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), stated "concerns about recent reports that Russian senior officials believe that our negotiators have made concessions regarding deployment of U.S. missile defenses during the negotiations."[10] Once the treaty was released, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates attempted to negate these concerns, stating at a press conference that "Missile defense is not constrained by this treaty".[11] A recent letter to the editor by National Security Advisor James Jones in the Wall Street Journal expanded on this statement by explaining that "The treaty restrains neither our program for missile defense of the U.S. (at bases in California and Alaska) nor the new phased adaptive approach for missile defense in Europe…Moreover, compared to the expired START treaty, the new treaty reduces constraints on missile defense testing, because the prior treaty limited the types of targets we could use".[12]

Despite these adamant statements, the missile defense issue is further complicated by Republican concerns about the linkage of missile defense to strategic arms reductions. The same letter stated that "it is highly unlikely that the Senate would ratify a treaty that includes such a linkage, including a treaty that includes unilateral declarations that the Russian Federation could use as leverage against you or your successors when U.S. missile defense decisions are made."[13] A link between offensive and defensive systems is included in the treaty's preamble rather than its body, stating that the parties recognize "the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms,"[14] The reference in the treaty's body to missile defenses states that, "A missile of a type developed and tested solely to intercept and counter objects not located on the surface of the Earth shall not be considered to be a ballistic missile to which the provisions of this treaty apply."[15]

However, there could be some limit on U.S. options for deploying missile defense by the clause which states that, "Each Party shall not convert and shall not use ICBM launchers and SLBM launchers for placement of missile defense interceptors therein. This provision shall not apply to ICBM launchers that were converted prior to signature of this Treaty for placement of missile defense interceptors therein."[16] This clause exempts those interceptors deployed in former offensive missile silos, but prohibits the use of ICBM silos for deployment of missile defense interceptors in the future. National Security Advisor Jones' letter attempted to allay any concerns about this potential restraint, stating that the clause is "a limit in theory, but not in reality. As Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, explained to Congress on April 15, we have no plans to convert any additional ICBM silos. In fact, it would be less expensive to build a new silo rather than convert an old one".[17]

Besides these technicalities, an issue of great concern in the Senate debate itself will be a unilateral statement that Russia made when President Dmitry Medvedev signed the treaty. The Russian statement on April 8 said that the treaty will "be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances referred to in Article 14 [the withdrawal clause] of the Treaty include increasing the capabilities of the United States of America's missile defence system in such a way that [it] threatens the potential of the strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation."[18] This was somewhat counteracted by President Obama's statement at the treaty's signing that "President Medvedev and I have also agreed to expand our discussions on missile defense. This will include regular exchanges of information about our threat assessments, as well as the completion of a joint assessment of emerging ballistic missiles. And as these assessments are completed, I look forward to launching a serious dialogue about Russian-American cooperation on missile defense."[19] Whether these statements will appease the ratifying bodies in both states remains to be seen, but the U.S. perception of non-linkage of the two issues seems to be fundamentally different from the Russian view that any development or expansion of U.S. missile defenses could upset the nuclear balance of power and threaten Russia's strategic arsenal.[20]

Another concern is that the new treaty could limit certain U.S. conventional weapons capabilities.[21] A September 2009 report from the Senate Republican Policy Committee stated that the new treaty "should not limit extraneous and unrelated U.S. defense programs, such as missile defense or prompt global strike capability" in order to warrant Senate consent.[22] The Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) program seeks to develop ways of carrying out fast, long-range strikes anywhere in the world—a role previously confined to long-range, nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.[23] As part of this development, the United States may be looking to place conventional warheads on its ballistic missiles, such as the Minuteman III or the Trident II.[24] A State Department fact sheet issued on April 8 claims that "New START protects the U.S. ability to develop and deploy a CPGS capability. The Treaty in no way prohibits the United States from building or deploying conventionally-armed ballistic missiles".[25] However, conventional weapons are included in the treaty's limits in the same manner as the START I agreement. For the purposes of the treaty, there is no distinction between nuclear and conventional warheads, so a conventional warhead on an ICBM would be counted under both the treaty's limit of 1,550 warheads and the limit of 700 delivery vehicles. The State Department fact sheet assures that "This warhead ceiling would accommodate any plans the United States might develop during the life of this Treaty to deploy conventional warheads on ballistic missiles."[26] However, this does not address the fact that given the lack of distinction between the warhead types, expanding the CPGS program will come at the expense of reducing the number of nuclear warheads.

Another technical aspect of the new START agreement that has come under criticism is its verification provisions. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) issued a statement on April 8, stating that, "Under the treaty, Russia and the United States have reduced the number of warheads and verification procedures significantly. Both of these changes will have ramifications on our force structure and intelligence that we will need to evaluate."[27] Verification methods under New START do not provide the same level of oversight as the original START agreement, which established numerous means of verifying compliance by each side, including on-site inspections, data exchanges, monitoring of missile production facilities, and a ban on the encryption of test-flight data, or telemetry. New START reduces these verification measures, but maintains on-site inspections and the use of "national technical means" (spy satellites).[28] Inspections are designed to "confirm the accuracy of declared data,"[29] but are less extensive under New START than START I,[30] reducing the expense and burden of the original inspection regime. With regard to data exchange, controversy over telemetry continued throughout the treaty negotiations. Though the exchange of telemetry is no longer strictly necessary since technological advances allow for independent access to missile test data, it is still allowed under the treaty despite Russian opposition. Unlike Russia, the United States is not testing new missiles so Russian technicians gain little information from U.S. test flights, making this condition a somewhat one-sided restriction on Russia. Russian objections could also have been due to concerns about the United States being able to develop missile interceptors against Russian missiles.[31] Despite U.S. insistence on maintaining data exchange, "the final deal provided for exchange of a limited (and voluntarily chosen) amount of telemetry data,"[32] a condition which is likely to prove controversial.

In terms of counting rules, controversy exists over why the agreement counts each deployed heavy bomber as one warhead, even if it has the capacity to carry multiple nuclear bombs or air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs).[33] This practice, a partial departure from START I counting rules, could prove beneficial to Russia, which is looking to maintain its warhead numbers while reducing the number of launchers.[34] On paper, New START requires a nearly 30 percent reduction in the number of deployed strategic warheads on each side. The treaty limits each side to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, which is about a 30 percent reduction from the approximately 2,126 strategic warheads that the U.S. currently deploys (and the approximately 2,600 Russia is believed to currently deploy).[35] However, under the agreement's counting rules, the United States is already deploying far fewer than 2,126 strategic nuclear warheads, making the actual cuts required to its deployed strategic warheads less than 30 percent. This rule is also advantageous for Russia; indeed the Russian media are already announcing that the new limits allow Russia to maintain 2,100 strategic warheads, far above the supposed New START limit.[36] In addition to this controversial counting rule, New START removes the START I limits on the number of warheads per missile while limiting the number of launchers, which seems to encourage the practice of putting multiple warheads on one launcher, which has been long been held as destabilizing (and which the never ratified START II agreement would have banned).[37]

There are other issues concerning Russia. New START does not cover Russian non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons, though the Obama administration would like to address both these weapons and stored warheads in future negotiations. As undersecretary Tauscher stated on March 29, "It certainly is an ambition of the President and Secretary Clinton to begin to have those conversations."[38] Russia reportedly holds thousands of deployed and non-deployed tactical nuclear weapons, many of which are stationed on its border with Europe. In comparison, the United States deploys fewer than 200 tactical weapons for use by NATO in five European host states. However, the provisions of New START hardly cater to including limitations on tactical weapons. Many Russian delivery vehicles for such weapons are dual-capable, so the New START method of counting delivery vehicles as equipped with nuclear warheads does not apply. Controlling tactical nuclear weapons would require controlling the entire stockpile, and thus any kind of negotiations on tactical weapons would likely need to lead to a different type of agreement. While the European host states have been fervently debating the presence and utility of U.S. tactical weapons on their territories within the NATO context, the Russians have so far been largely quiet on the issue, even while questioning why U.S. tactical weapons remain in third countries.[39]

Republicans in the Senate are using the treaty ratification debate as leverage to call for "modernization" of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The Obama administration tried to head off this criticism with its fiscal year 2011 budget proposal, which requests large funding increases for the nuclear weapons laboratories and production facilities. Though Vice President Joe Biden advocated the proposed increase of $624 million in the budget for modernization of U.S. forces next year and $5 billion over the next five years,[40] some remain skeptical that the United States is doing enough to maintain its aging arsenal and weapons complex. Following the release of the Nuclear Posture Review, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) released a statement stating that, "the amount of money committed to this in the FY11-15 budget window…is woefully inadequate to bring our Manhattan Project-era facilities up to date and do the work necessary to enhance the reliability and extend the life of our warheads, all while maintaining the current stockpile. This funding insufficiency must be corrected."[41] Republicans are also waiting to see the administration's upcoming concrete modernization plan. This is a provision of the 2009 Defense Authorization Act, requiring the administration to submit a report outlining its plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and its associated nuclear weapons complex before or at the time the new START agreement is submitted to the Senate for advice and consent.[42]

Republican Support for a START successor

The Republicans have often been united in their concern regarding these issues. In December 2009, all 40 Republican senators as well as Senator Lieberman wrote a letter stating that further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal would be acceptable only if accompanied by "a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent," a sentiment that has been raised repeatedly.[43]

However, it is important to note that Republican support for a treaty does exist despite criticism of the treaty specifics and related nuclear issues. The Strategic Posture Commission, co-chaired by former defense secretaries James Schlesinger and William Perry, was tasked by Congress in 2008 to examine and make recommendations regarding the U.S. long-term strategic posture, and included six conservative Republican members. In its 2009 report, the commission supported additional reductions in the U.S. nuclear stockpile and reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, as long as the resilience and survivability of U.S. strategic forces are maintained.[44] A recent op-ed by Schlesinger and Perry stated that "we want to emphasize important dimensions of both the Posture Review [NPR] and START treaty that figure prominently in our bipartisan report," explaining that the NPR "incorporates many of our points — such as pursuing a quick and modest reduction of nuclear weapons with Russia and sustaining the nuclear triad of land-based ICBMs, sea-based SLBMs and bombers".[45] The incorporation of Commission recommendations in the START and NPR could lend credibility to potential Republican support in the Senate.

Furthermore, even conservative Republicans say that in principle they support some successor to START, though they may still oppose elements of the new agreement for both policy and political reasons. In July 2009, a bipartisan group of moderate and conservative senators including Republican Senators Kyl, James Inhofe (R-OK), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Joe Lieberman, wrote a letter to President Obama stating that, "We support your determination to bring into force a follow-on agreement to START prior to its lapse on December 5th of this year," though they pointedly criticized any restrictions on U.S. missile defense capabilities.[46]

If Republican senators are to vote in favor of the treaty, they will have to overcome their party's general anti-arms control sentiments and distrust of Russia. A recent survey was particularly illustrative of this distrust. In a Rasmussen poll on March 31, 44 percent of Democrats thought Russia would honor the treaty (a plurality) while 60 percent of Republicans thought Russia would not. Overall 31 percent think Russia will honor it.[47] Nevertheless, Russia still trails far behind China and Iran as a perceived national security threat for people from both parties.

The Vote: Historical Arms Control Supporters and the Critics

In the post-Cold War era, arms control treaties have had overwhelming bipartisan support. (However, President Jimmy Carter never won Senate approval of SALT II in 1979. Facing strong opposition after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in January 1980, Carter asked the Senate to delay a vote on ratification). However, voting on the three post-Cold War major arms control treaties showed a change beginning with START in 1992 (endorsed by a vote of 93-6), then START II in 1996 (87-4), and the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), commonly known as the Moscow Treaty in 2003 (95-0). Whether the new START agreement will muster the same wide support in the Senate is difficult to predict, though the administration will certainly be looking for more robust support than the minimum 67 votes required for passage.

The "Decisive Dozen"

Assuming that all 57 Democrats in the Senate vote in favor of the resolution, passage will hinge on the ability to gain the support of some Republican and independent Senators. Thus, some of the support for New START will most likely depend on moderate Republicans and those Republican senators who have previously supported nuclear arms control treaties.

When looking at the voting patterns of Republican and independent senators for the three most recent major U.S-Russian arms control treaties mentioned above, a path toward passage of the treaty seems possible. As Table 1 shows, if the senators who voted favorably for two or three of the past arms control treaties (given no abstentions or nay votes) vote favorably again, then 11 Republicans and one independent senator will vote in favor of the treaty, making 69 "yea" votes. In addition, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is unlikely to oppose the treaty.

Two Swing Votes and a Critic

Though this historical vote overview is helpful, it must be noted that Senators McCain and Lieberman, who are included in the "decisive dozen," publicly raised concerns during the treaty's negotiation that it would inhibit U.S. flexibility in deploying missile defenses. In February 2010, Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Kyl wrote a letter to National Security Advisor James Jones protesting reports of a unilateral Russian statement saying that Moscow would withdraw from the new treaty if it felt that its security was imperiled by further developments of U.S. strategic missile defense capabilities.[48] Thus McCain and Lieberman might be considered "swing votes" despite their consistent historical support of arms control treaties.

Senator Kyl's position is much harder to discern from his past votes, which include an abstention on START II and a yea vote on the Moscow Treaty. Kyl has been the most vocal Senate critic during the treaty negotiations, has a history of focusing on nuclear issues, and is widely credited with convincing other Senators to reject ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1999.[49] In November 2009, Kyl delivered a speech on the Senate floor outlining concerns about the looming expiration of START and its verification measures. Though some verification measures from the original START agreement were extended on an ad hoc and voluntary basis until a new treaty could be ratified, this concern about verification could pose a challenge to securing his vote and that of his Republican colleagues since New START does reduce verification measures.[50] However, it must be noted that there is some inconsistency in Kyl's protests. Senator Kyl and his staff provided assistance to support Congressional testimony arguing against the intrusive and costly verification methods included in the Chemical Weapons Convention, another significant arms control treaty.[51] Furthermore, the Moscow Treaty, for which Kyl voted favorably in 2003, contained no verification procedures, relying entirely on START verification methods. Aside from the issue of verification, Senators Kyl and McConnell also wrote a letter to President Obama on March 15, 2010, objecting to any U.S. concessions on missile defense and supporting a 10-year spending plan on the nuclear weapons complex.[52] Despite any inconsistency, Kyl's leading role in opposing the CTBT and vocal concerns about several aspects of the START agreement could indicate that he will vote in the negative, and may attempt to convince other Republican senators to do the same.

Since the text of the new treaty was released, these three senators issued statements again tying support for the treaty to sufficient investments in the national nuclear weapons infrastructure. On the day New START was signed in Prague, Senator Lieberman released a statement saying that "any reductions in our nuclear stockpile must be accompanied by an appropriate modernization plan to bring our aging nuclear weapons complex, our warheads, and our delivery systems up to 21st century standards. My vote on the START Treaty will thus depend in large measure on whether I am convinced the Administration has put forward an appropriate and adequately-funded plan to sustain and modernize the smaller nuclear stockpile it envisions."[53]

Senators McCain and Kyl released a similar statement following the release of the administration's Nuclear Posture Review, stating that they were expecting to see a modernization plan presented by the administration.[54] In the weeks since the treaty's signature, Senator Kyl's vocal discussions of the treaty are creating concern for those supporting ratification. Kyl has called the administration's recent disarmament achievements public relations efforts that do not focus on the real concerns of Iran, North Korea and modernization of the U.S. arsenal. At a breakfast sponsored by the National Defense University Foundation on April 20, Kyl addressed these concerns and predicted that "we're going to have a very robust debate on whether or not the United States is better off with this treaty. Personally, I'm not sure the treaty is worth what we give up."[55]

Knowing these ongoing criticisms, the administration has instigated efforts to secure Republican support for the treaty. Senator Kyl was invited to serve as an observer to the negotiations in Geneva months before the treaty was signed and the Senate group he heads, the National Security Working Group, was repeatedly briefed by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, the chief U.S. arms negotiator.[56] On April 9, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supported ratification of the treaty in a speech to students at the McConnell Center for Public Policy at the University of Louisville in Kentucky stating that, "By ratifying this treaty, the United States won't give up anything of strategic importance. But in return, we will receive significant, tangible benefits." Clinton also stated that she is "confident that once senators have the chance to study this new treaty, we will have the same high levels of bipartisan support as the agreements that this one builds upon."[57] Clinton's visit was likely a direct effort to obtain the support of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who was present at the event.

Obtaining Republican Support

As shown in Table 1, key Republican votes will be those who have voted for arms control treaties before, as well as relative moderates such as Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Kit Bond (R-MO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and George Voinovich (R-OH). For credibility and support, public Republican "validators" such as Former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger or Bush administration officials such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or former Secretary of State Colin Powell will also prove significant. Public endorsements of the treaty by prominent Republican national security experts could provide cover for Republican senators to vote for the treaty.

On March 26, prior to the release of the treaty's text, Shultz and Kissinger as well as former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Senator Sam Nunn, who have been four of the most prominent and vocal advocates of eliminating nuclear weapons in recent years, released a statement on New START, saying, "We strongly endorse the goals of this Treaty, and we hope that after careful and expeditious review that both the United States Senate and the Russian Federal Assembly will be able to ratify the Treaty."[58] After the treaty's signature, a key partial endorsement came from former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger. The Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Nuclear Posture Review Commission noted in a recent op-ed that both the Nuclear Posture Review and New START supported many of the conclusions reached by the Commission. Perry and Schlesinger stated that cuts to U.S. strategic arms were viable explaining, "We believe that the substantial edge the U.S. has developed in conventional military capabilities, which the NPR notes, permits this country to sharply reduce reliance on nuclear weapons."[59]

Colin Powell in his introduction to Nuclear Tipping Point, a newly released documentary on nuclear dangers which was recently screened at the White House, states pointedly that, "The one thing that I convinced myself after all these years of exposure to the use of nuclear weapons is that they were useless. They could not be used. If you can have deterrence with an even lower number of weapons, well then why stop there, why not continue on, why not get rid of them altogether… This is the moment when we have to move forward and all of us come together to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and eliminate them from the face of the earth."[60] This statement can be taken as an endorsement of nuclear arms reduction agreements generally, and indicate that Powell might come out supporting New START.

At a press conference on April 8, Richard Burt, who negotiated the first START treaty in 1991 during the George H.W. Bush administration, stated that "it will be very difficult for anybody to come up with a strong set of coherent arguments against this treaty." He also noted the broader global impact of not passing the treaty: "Anyone who would vote against [the treaty] needs to think about the consequences of the signals we would send to the rest of the world…What would be the impact on proliferation?…What would it do to US leadership…on a whole range of international order issues?".[61] This concern for the political impact of not ratifying the treaty will likely be a driving force behind arguments for Senate approval of ratification.

Parochial Concerns in the Debate

Naturally, domestic concerns are also likely to play into the vote. Cuts to U.S. strategic arms could involve a reduction in the resources required to maintain its arsenal. The Nuclear Posture Review released by the administration on April 6 states that under New START, "Stable deterrence can be maintained while reducing U.S. strategic delivery vehicles—intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-capable heavy bombers—by approximately 50 percent from the START I level."[62] Though the impact and timing of these cuts may not be as drastic as these figures imply, this statement could be of significant concern to air and naval bases as well as groups such as the Senate ICBM Coalition, which is trying to prevent any reduction in deployed ICBMs at bases in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota where downsizing, closing, or moving bases could have a significant impact on local economies.[63]

On May 14, 2009, a bipartisan group including Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Robert Bennett (R-UT), and John Barrasso (R-WY), wrote a letter to President Obama urging the administration to "maintain a strong land-based strategic nuclear deterrent force with 450 single-warhead ICBMs."[64] These 450 Minuteman III ICBMs are the nation's current total ICBM force.[65] The Senators argued that this force provides a stabilizing constant in the U.S. nuclear posture, though they agreed "that our nation should maintain the smallest possible nuclear force consistent with our security needs,"[66] demonstrating general support for the new START agreement's objectives.

The ICBM Coalition's sentiments were reaffirmed by Senator Barrasso's op-ed in a Wyoming newspaper on April 15, 2010 stating that, "the president must demonstrate his commitment to preserving our entire nuclear triad. The administration must retain land-based ICBMs. If we decrease the footprint of our land-based ICBMs, we will weaken the safest, most secure, reliable, available, and cost-effective tool in America's nuclear arsenal."[67] Senator Barrasso is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and he noted that "As a member of the committee that oversees the treaty, I will demand answers about how the treaty will impact Wyoming and America's security," previewing some of the committee's upcoming debate.[68]

Still, the public seems to support ratification of New START, despite having mixed positions on the results of the Nuclear Posture Review, on testing nuclear weapons, and on the impact of President Obama's arms control efforts. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 60 percent of those polled believed that New START should be ratified while 33 percent opposed ratification of the new treaty, and seven percent were undecided. The poll also found that "an overwhelming majority of Democrats and independents supported ratification, while Republicans opposed it by 48 percent to 43 percent, with 10 percent undecided."[69] These numbers will also likely influence senators' positions during the debate.

Conclusion

The administration seems confident that it can win support for the treaty. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared at a White House press briefing, "we're confident that we'll be able to make the case for ratification."[70] Based on historical Senate records on arms control treaties and the existing Senate support for a START successor, it seems that this is indeed possible.

However, precedent is not binding and the Senate's rejection of the CTBT under President Bill Clinton indicates that the current environment of partisan politics could make the battle for ratification extremely challenging. Even if there are ultimately bipartisan votes for the treaty, many critics of the administration are likely to criticize aspects of it and demand significant investments in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. As a result, the Senate is also likely to approve conditions, reservations, or other provisions in the ratification of resolution, some of which could complicate its implementation or its ratification by the Russian government. Nevertheless, beyond concerns about U.S-Russian arms control per se, the alternative of not endorsing the new agreement is likely to be seen as an option that would be too disruptive to the relationship between Russia and the United States as well as to U.S. international prestige and influence, which is slowly rebounding.

Senate approval is not the only obstacle for entry into force of New START—it must also be approved by the Russian Duma, which proved to be an obstacle to the entry into force of START II because of missile defense-related provisions that body attached to that treaty's resolution of ratification. Early indications are that after a vigorous debate, the Duma is likely to approve a ratification resolution as well, but there is the considerable possibility of the two parliaments engaging in a damaging series of tit-for-tat measures particularly over the contentious issue of missile defense.

Sources:

[1] The author would like to thank Miles Pomper, whose presentation on April 7, 2010 in Washington, DC provided the outline for this brief. She would also like to thank Cole Harvey, Miles Pomper, Stephen Schwartz, and Nikolai Sokov for their valuable editorial input. Any shortcomings in the text are the author's own.
[2] "New START Treaty and the Obama Administration's Nonproliferation Agenda," Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Department of State, March 29, 2010, www.state.gov; "US Senate may need until 2011 to ratify nuclear pact: Reid," AFP, April 13, 2010, https://news.yahoo.com; "Transcript of Arms Control Association Annual Meeting: Next Steps on Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction," Rose Gottemoeller, April 26, 2010, ww.armscontrol.org.
[3] Elaine M. Grossman, "'New START' Technical Annexes to be Completed after Treaty is Signed," Global Security Newswire, March 30, 2010, www.globalsecuritynewswire.org.
[4] Ibid.
[5] John Isaacs, "START follow-on: The Senate Calculus," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 29, 2010, www.thebulletin.org.
[6] Ibid.
[7] "Statement by Senator Lugar on START," March 26, 2010, https://lugar.senate.gov.
[8] "Obama Scraps European Missile Defense Initiative," Global Security Newswire, September 17, 2009, https://gsn.nti.org.
[9] Tom Z. Collina, "U.S. Taps Romania for Missile Defense," Arms Control Today, March 2010, www.armscontrol.org.
[10] Letter to President Barack Obama from Senators Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, March 15, 2010, www.foreignpolicy.com.
[11] John Isaacs and Kingston Reif, "Analysis of the 'New START' Treaty," The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, www.armscontrolcenter.org.
[12] James L. Jones, "New START Treaty Won't Limit a Better Missile Defense," Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2010, https://online.wsj.com.
[13] Letter to President Barack Obama from Senators Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, March 15, 2010, www.foreignpolicy.com.
[14] Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russia Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms," www.state.gov.
[15] Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russia Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms," Article III, Paragraph 7(a), www.state.gov.
[16] Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russia Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms," Article V, Paragraph 3, www.state.gov.
[17] James L. Jones, "New START Treaty Won't Limit a Better Missile Defense," Letters to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2010, https://online.wsj.com.
[18] "Statement by the Russian Federation on Missile Defense," April 8, 2010, https://eng.kremlin.ru.
[19] "Remarks of President Obama at the New START Treaty Signing Ceremony," April 8, 2010, https://nato.usmission.gov.
[20] "Ratification of New START Treaty dependent on Missile Defense Interpretation," PR Newswire, www.prnewswire.com.
[21] Michael Krepon, "Treaty Signings," Arms Control Wonk, April 8, 2010, www.armscontrolwonk.com.
[22] "START Follow-On Dos and Don'ts," U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee, September 30, 2009, www.scribd.com.
[23] Rick Rozoff, "Prompt Global Strike: World Military Superiority without Nuclear Weapons," Media Monitors Network, April 13, 2010, https://usa.mediamonitors.net.
[24] Dennis M. Gormley, "The Path to Deep Nuclear Reductions," Proliferation Papers, Ifri Security Studies Center, Fall 2009, https://cns.miis.edu.
[25] "Conventional Prompt Global Strike Fact Sheet," Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation, U.S. Department of State, April 8, 2010, www.state.gov.
[26] Ibid.
[27] "Statement by Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl Regarding the Nuclear Posture," https://kyl.senate.gov.
[28] Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russia Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms," Article VI, Paragraph 3(a) and 3(b), www.state.gov.
[29] Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russia Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms," Article XI, Paragraph 3, www.state.gov.
[30] Alexander Pikayev, "New START: Preliminary Thoughts in Moscow," James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, April 7, 2010, https://cns.miis.edu.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] John Isaacs and Kingston Reif, "Analysis of the 'New START' Treaty," The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, www.armscontrolcenter.org.
[34] "Don't START," National Review Online, April 16, 2010, https://article.nationalreview.com.
[35] John Isaacs and Kingston Reif, "Analysis of the 'New START' Treaty," The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, www.armscontrolcenter.org.
[36] "Don't START," National Review Online, April 16, 2010, https://article.nationalreview.com.
[37] Ibid.
[38] "New START Treaty and the Obama Administration's Nonproliferation Agenda," Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, Department of State, March 29, 2010, www.state.gov.
[39] Johan Bergenäs, Miles Pomper, William Potter, and Nikolai Sokov, "Reducing and Regulating Tactical (Non-strategic) Nuclear Weapons in Europe," Forthcoming report prepared for the Unit for Policy Planning and Research Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, April 2010.
[40] "Remarks of Vice President Biden at National Defense University—As Prepared for Delivery," February 18, 2010, www.whitehouse.gov.
[41] "Statement by Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl Regarding the Nuclear Posture," https://kyl.senate.gov.
[42] Baker Spring, "START Follow-On Treaty: Balance Arms Control with Nuclear Modernization Progress," The Heritage Foundation, December 3, 2009, www.heritage.org.
[43] Bill Gertz, "Inside the Ring: Nuke modernization," The Washington Times, 2009, www.washingtontimes.com.
[44] "Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States," United States Institute of Peace, www.usip.org.
[45] William Perry and James Schlesinger, "Nuclear review shows bipartisanship," Politico, April 14, 2010, www.politico.com.
[46] "Senators Letter on START and Missile Defense," July 2, 2009, www.armscontrolcenter.org.
[47] "31% Trust Russia to Honor Nuclear Arms Agreement," Rasmussen Reports, March 31, 2010, www.rasmussenreports.com.
[48] Letter by Senators McCain, Kyl and Lieberman to National Security Advisor James L. Jones, February 17, 2010, www.foreignpolicy.com.
[49] John Isaacs, "START follow-on: The Senate Calculus," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 29, 2010, www.thebulletin.org.
[50] Max Bergmann, "Kyl vs Kyl On START Treaty," The Wonk Room, March 31, 2010, https://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org.
[51] Testimony of Roger Pilon of the CATO Institute, "Constitutional Aspects of the Chemical Weapons Convention," Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, September 10, 1996, www.cato.org.
[52] Letter to President Barack Obama from Senators Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, March 15, 2010, www.foreignpolicy.com.
[53] "Lieberman Statement on START Treaty, Nuclear Posture Review," April 8, 2010, https://lieberman.senate.gov.
[54] "Statement by Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl Regarding the Nuclear Posture," https://kyl.senate.gov.
[55] James Kitfield, "Kyl Talks about Stopping New START," National Journal, April 21, 2010, https://burnafterreading.nationaljournal.com.
[56] Peter Spiegel, "GOP's Kyl Courted on Nuclear Treaty," The Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2010, https://online.wsj.com.
[57] "Secretary Clinton's Speech at the University of Louisville," April 10, 2010, https://secretaryclinton.wordpress.com.
[58] "Statement by George Shultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn on START Follow-On Treaty," March 26, 2010, www.nti.org.
[59] William Perry and James Schlesinger, "Nuclear review shows bipartisanship," Politico, April 14, 2010, www.politico.com.
[60] Max Bergmann, "Colin Powell: Nuclear Weapons are Useless," The Wonk Room, January 27, 2010, https://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org.
[61] David Corn, "Reagan/Bush I Appointee to GOPers: Don't Mess with Start Treaty," April 8, 2010, https://motherjones.com.
[62] Nuclear Posture Review Report, U.S. Department of Defense, April 2010, www.defense.gov.
[63] "Nuclear Heartland Anxious About Missile Cuts," Associated Press, April 3, 2010, www.google.com/hostednews/ap.
[64] Letter by Senators Bennett, Conrad, Dorgan, Hatch, Baucus, Enzi, Barrasso and Tester to President Barack Obama, May 14, 2009, https://bennett.senate.gov.
[65] "Conrad, Enzi Urge President to Maintain ICBM Force," Senator Mike Enzi News Releases, May 15, 2009, https://enzi.senate.gov.
[66]Letter by Senators Bennett, Conrad, Dorgan, Hatch, Baucus, Enzi, Barrasso and Tester to President Barack Obama, May 14, 2009, https://bennett.senate.gov.
[67] Senator John Barrasso, "Obama must prove nuke treaty is verifiable," Trib.com, April 15, 2010, www.trib.com.
[68] Ibid.
[69] Bruce Drake, "Votes Back Ratification of Nuclear Arms Treaty with Russia," Poll Watch, April 22, 2010, www.politicsdaily.com.
[70] Tom Z Collina, "New START to be Signed April 8," Arms Control Today, April 2010, www.armscontrol.org.

Stay Informed

Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest on nuclear and biological threats.

Sign Up


Nuclear Submarine Dismantlement

Report

Nuclear Submarine Dismantlement

Nuclear-powered submarines are one of the most potent symbols of the bygone U.S.-Soviet arms race. (CNS)



Close

My Resources