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The START Treaty Gets a Push

Jon-Kyl The new START treaty between the United States and Russia (the previous one expired in December) has fallen off the radar a bit since President Barack Obama signed it and sent it to Congress last May. The treaty was not ratified before Congress’ August recess.

Here’s what the treaty means to do, in its own words:

1. Each Party shall reduce and limit its ICBMs and ICBM
launchers, SLBMs and SLBM launchers, heavy bombers, ICBM
warheads, SLBM warheads, and heavy bomber nuclear armaments, so that seven years after entry into force of this Treaty and thereafter, the aggregate numbers, as counted in accordance with Article I11 of this Treaty, do not exceed:

(a) 700, for deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed
heavy bombers;

(b) 1550, for warheads on deployed ICBMs, warheads on
deployed SLBMs, and nuclear warheads counted for deployed
heavy bombers;

(c) 800, for deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers,
deployed and non-deployed SLBM launchers, and deployed and
non-deployed heavy bombers.

Those 1,550 warheads for each country would represent a reduction from 2,200 warheads currently. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a speech Wednesday to push the treaty along:

President Bush actually began this process more than two years ago with broad, bipartisan agreement that a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was imperative for the peace and security of our world. The Obama Administration has followed through with painstaking negotiations to finalize an agreement that lives up to this high standard and makes concrete steps to reduce the threat of strategic arms.

This treaty is another step in the process of bilateral nuclear reductions initiated by President Reagan and supported overwhelmingly by both Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses alike. In every instance, the Senate has ratified such treaties with overwhelming bipartisan support.

So far, only Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has signaled approval on the Republican side of the aisle, but since he’s the ranking member on the Foreign Relations committee, his endorsement carries considerable weight.

Where Republicans have voiced concerns, it is about the state of the nuclear arsenal and a need to modernize it.

"There is a fair amount of concern among conservative circles that our strategic nuclear forces need to be modernized and indeed they do.  The strategic forces the U.S. has today are the product of a recapitalization [modernization] effort done by the Reagan administration - so they are 20, to 30-years-old. They do need to be modernized," [Frank Miller, a former senior official on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush] said.

Here’s Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) on this issue:

That’s why I offered an amendment last year that requires the President to develop a plan to modernize our nuclear deterrent and submit it to the Senate along with a START follow-on treaty.  Senators Byrd, Levin, McCain, Kerry, and Lugar joined me in writing to the President to emphasize the point.  Subsequently, 41 Senators wrote to the President in December, articulating the objectives that a modernization plan must meet before a START follow-on agreement could win their support.

The treaty addresses modernization directly.

1. Subject to the provisions of this Treaty, modernization
and replacement of strategic offensive arms may be carried
out.

And the main provision regarding this is that, if Russia or the U.S. devise a new kind of weapon, the other can raise questions about it. However, the Senate wants to mandate that modernization, which the treaty does not do. Secretary Clinton offered some reassurance during her speech:

In fact, President Obama’s budget request for the next fiscal year represents a 13 percent increase for weapons activities and infrastructure. Over the next decade we are asking for an $80 billion investment in our nuclear security complex. Linton Brooks, the head of President Bush’s national security complex, has applauded our budget and our commitment to nuclear modernization.

I ran into some starkly wrong or overly partisan responses to the treaty, but they haven’t really gained much traction. It may be that the mid-term elections may ultimately delay a vote, but right now, it looks like debate will start in September. So let’s follow this one and see where it leads.

Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.). I haven’t seen enough of Kyl to know if he favors big gestures – but this one is pretty expressive.

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