The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has just approved the new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty (New START) and sent it to the Senate floor. We are writing to urge that the Senate move promptly to ratify it. The arguments that have been advanced in favor of the treaty are strong and compelling.
Why is New START important? The answer is simple: The START treaty, which was signed in 1991 and entered into force in 1994, expired last December. When it did, so too did its verification and compliance regime, which was the culmination of more than 30 years of U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian arms-control negotiations. Since December, no American inspectors have been able to visit Russian missile sites and no Russian inspectors have been here. Each side, as a result, has lost an important element of transparency into the other’s strategic forces. Transparency enhances predictability; predictability enhances stability. Without transparency, distrust and suspicion grow.
The new treaty resolves this problem by re-establishing a nuclear-arms-reduction relationship - and an accompanying inspection and verification regime. Furthermore, it mandates modest additional cuts (beyond those agreed to in the 2002 accord signed by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin) in the existing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. Moving to lower levels in a verifiable and transparent manner is a time-proven method for achieving a proper balance that both provides the security we need and recognizes changing global realities.
What, then, do opponents say against the treaty? First, it is said to restrict U.S. ballistic-missile defense options. While it is true that the treaty prohibits converting existing intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launchers and submarine missile tubes to house missile-defense interceptors, the U.S. has no plans to do so - for an excellent reason. The Defense Department has examined these options and concluded that there are more effective (and less costly) ways to defend against ballistic-missile attack. The treaty permits all of them.
Second, it is claimed that the treaty does not provide for adequate verification and monitoring, particularly in contrast to the verification provisions of the original START treaty. For example, critics say, the old treaty called for 28 on-site inspections a year, but the new one allows just 18. But the critics don’t point out that under the original START treaty, there were 70 inspectable locations across the width and breadth of the Soviet Union, whereas today there are just 35 inspectable locations in Russia. We think the Departments of State and Defense and the intelligence community were correct in assessing that the 18 inspections a year, in combination with our intelligence assets, will permit the United States to have confidence that Russia is abiding by the treaty - or will provide the evidence we need that it is not.
The verification regime does not provide, as some critics desire, information on aspects of Russian systems that are not regulated by the treaty, for example missile throw-weight. But it isn’t supposed to do that. A verification regime is designed specifically to ensure compliance with the treaty with which it is associated, not with some other treaty or in pursuit of intelligence goals. The New START verification regime is more than adequate for the task it was designed to perform.
Third, treaty critics complain that New START does not limit Russian short-range nuclear forces. That’s true, but for a simple reason: Again, it wasn’t designed to do that. New START only addresses long-range Russian nuclear forces, the ones that directly threaten the United States. The United States has never engaged either the Soviet Union or Russia to negotiate a treaty on short-range nuclear arms. The Russians do have a large number of short-range nuclear forces, many times the size of the equivalent U.S. force and far more than they need. And, while successive U.S. administrations dating back to Ronald Reagan’s have never sought parity with Russia in these systems in the manner that we have demanded parity in long-range systems, we have always sought to have a force sufficient for our - and our allies’ - deterrent needs. This we have. As we have noted, the Russians have far too many short-range nuclear weapons for their own good as well as for stability along their borders. But this needs to be addressed in a separate negotiation. No single treaty provides a “silver bullet” to mitigate all of the threats we face, and New START is no exception. To condemn it because it fails to accomplish tasks it was not meant to address is to misunderstand the history of arms control and of international relations. And, if we fail to have New START enter into force, we will have significantly reduced our chances of obtaining in the future a treaty that regulates short-range systems.
Finally, we understand there are some who are concerned that the Obama administration will not modernize those elements of our strategic forces that are becoming somewhat “long in tooth.” We think the administration has yet to be as fully transparent as it should be with Congress on its modernization plans, and we urge the administration to correct this. For example, rather than being content with the administration’s statement that it will retain “up to 420 Minuteman ICBMs,” some senators want to know exactly how many ICBMs the administration intends to keep. That is a fair question, but this issue will exist whether the treaty enters into force or not. The treaty permits modernization by both sides. Each side is equally advantaged or disadvantaged. But we will only be disadvantaged by what we choose not to do with respect to modernization. Concerns about modernization, therefore, are not an argument against the treaty. They are an argument for building a political consensus between the administration and Congress on what needs to be funded now and what can be deferred. In this respect, the treaty provides a vehicle whereby some Democrats not usually known for their support of strategic systems can bring themselves to commit to modernization, while, at the same time, some Republicans not usually known for their support for arms control can bring themselves to vote for ratification. Conversely, rejecting the treaty may well break this consensus and result in no modernization of our forces.
Treaties, like marriages, should not be entered into lightly or without good reason. The New START treaty enhances American security and improves international stability. That is a very good reason. The Senate should ratify it promptly.
Brent Scowcroft was national security adviser during the Ford and George H.W. Bush administrations. Jake Garn is a former Republican senator from Utah.