Playing politics with New START harms US security

The list of national security challenges facing America today is daunting. A short list of key priorities must include: preventing nuclear weapons and materials from falling into the hands of terrorists; stopping and reversing North Korea and Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons; assuring supply lines to our troops in Afghanistan; promoting stability in Central Asia; and achieving energy security both here and among our allies in Europe.

Not one of these challenges can be effectively addressed by the United States alone. Each of these challenges requires that we work with Russia. Yet the linchpin for our strategic cooperation with Russia—the New START Treaty—is at risk.

Every one of our core security challenges is made more difficult if ratification of the New START Treaty is delayed or, worse, if the treaty is defeated in the U.S. Senate.

The New START Treaty makes modest cuts in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals but is crucial to verification on both sides. Since our two nations can completely destroy each other, military planners usually take the worst-case approach if they do not have confidence in what the other side is doing with its nuclear forces.

When both sides respond to the worst-case, it is not only expensive, but can be very dangerous, so the verification procedures in the New START Treaty are crucial to both U.S. and Russian security.

Through the course of Senate deliberations on the treaty during the past seven months, 18 hearings and approximately 1,000 written answers to questions, objections and concerns from senators about the treaty have been answered and addressed.

The Obama administration also has addressed the important issue of whether we are investing sufficient funds to ensure that our existing nuclear arsenal remains safe, secure and reliable.

To address this concern, the president has committed an additional $85 billion in the next decade to underpin efforts to modernize our nuclear weapons infrastructure, while we work with Russia to mutually meet lower and safer warhead levels under the Treaty.

Delaying ratification of this treaty, or defeating it, to inflict a political defeat on the Obama administration would damage U.S. security interests and U.S. credibility globally. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, former Strategic Nuclear Commanders and our intelligence community leadership all have stated that the treaty is essential to our nation’s security.

The ratification of New START will not solve all of our front-burner security issues. It will, however, make cooperation from other nations more likely and more effective and therefore enhance American security.

I am hopeful that the Senate will put our nation’s security first by providing advice and consent to this important treaty.

Sam Nunn is a former U.S. senator from Georgia and co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. This op-ed was original published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

December 6, 2010

In this op-ed published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sam Nunn underscores the need for strategic with Russia.

Sam Nunn
Sam Nunn

Co-Chair, NTI