Senate Agrees to Proceed to Final Vote on New START
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2010 After seven months of debate and more than 20 hearings on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and Russia, the full Senate agreed today to proceed to a final vote.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved the treaty, but the full Senate will have to ratify the pact in a vote that could come as soon as tomorrow.
The senators voted 67-28 to end the debate and move on to a final vote.
“I strongly support the Senate voting to give its advice and consent to ratification of the New START treaty this week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a Dec. 21 statement.
“The treaty,” he added, “will enhance strategic stability at lower numbers of nuclear weapons, provide a rigorous inspection regime including on-site access to Russian missile silos, strengthen our leadership role in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and provide the necessary flexibility to structure our strategic nuclear forces to best meet national security interests.”
The treaty, Gates said, “stands on its merits and its prompt ratification will strengthen U.S. national security.”
In a Dec. 20 letter to Sen. John Kerry that Kerry posted on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee website, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said ratifying the new START treaty is “vital to U.S. national security” and achieves balance among four critical aims.
“It allows us to retain a strong and flexible American nuclear deterrent that will allow us to maintain stability at lower levels of deployed nuclear forces,” Mullen wrote.
“It helps strengthen openness and transparency in our relationship with Russia. It will strengthen the U.S. leadership role in reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” he added. “And it demonstrates our national commitment to reducing the worldwide risk of a nuclear incident resulting from proliferation.”
More than a year has passed, Mullen said, since the last START inspector left Russian soil, and even if the Senate ratifies the treaty tomorrow, months will pass before inspectors can return.
“Without the inspections that would resume 60 days after entry into force of the treaty, our understanding of Russia's nuclear posture will continue to erode,” he said, adding that maintaining awareness of Russian nuclear forces without such inspections will force a shift of scarce resources from other critical requirements.
“The Joint Chiefs and I are confident that the treaty does not in any way constrain our ability to pursue robust missile defenses,” Mullen said.
“We are equally confident that the European Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense will adequately protect our European allies and deployed forces, offering the best near- and long-term approaches to ballistic missile defense in Europe,” he said.
U.S. senior military leaders closely monitored all provisions related to conventional prompt global strike, called CPGS, throughout the negotiation process, Mullen added.
The treaty allows the United States to deploy CPGS systems and continue research, development, testing and evaluation of such concepts and systems, the admiral said.
“It is true that intercontinental ballistic missiles with a traditional trajectory would be accountable under the treaty,” Mullen said, “but the treaty's limits accommodate any plans the United States might pursue during the life of the treaty to deploy conventional warheads on ballistic missiles.”
Mullen said the Obama administration is committed to modernizing the nuclear triad.
“The Administration's proposed 10-year, $85 billion commitment to the U.S. nuclear enterprise attests to the importance being placed on nuclear deterrence and the investments required to sustain it -- especially given the country's present fiscal challenges,” he said.
If authorized and appropriated, he said, the increased funding will allow the United States to improve the safety, security and effectiveness of the nation’s nuclear weapons and develop the infrastructure needed to support the deterrent.