This Thursday, Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, intends to force a vote on New START, moving the resolution of ratification to the Senate floor for a final vote. Although only a handful of witnesses requested by the Senate minority have been called to testify on the treaty’s merits (we were among them), serious criticisms of the treaty’s shortcomings have nonetheless emerged. Unfortunately, many of the concerns raised, while mentioned in Senator Kerry’s draft resolution of ratification, are not addressed in a manner that is likely to allay critics’ apprehensions.
Proponents of the treaty are pushing hard for a vote this week, motivated at least in part by the fear that the composition of the Senate will be significantly altered by the November elections — and in a way that could lead to further questioning of the treaty’s provisions and, ultimately, to more demands that shortcomings be fixed before ratification. As just one example, more in-depth examination of the verification provisions could expose the gaps created by concessions on exchanges of telemetry data (which among other things indicate how many reentry vehicles a missile can carry) and on site monitoring of Russia’s missile-assembly facility. To date, treaty supporters have relied on the argument that U.S. security is strengthened simply by having “U.S. boots on the ground” conducting inspections at Russian operational facilities. However, as we know from our experience with North Korea, the fact that inspectors are allowed into a country does not mean we can detect or deter cheating.
While silent on telemetry and other key verification weaknesses, Senator Kerry’s draft resolution does contain references to concerns raised about, for example, limitations on missile defenses and on conventional prompt global strike, a potential loophole for rail-mobile ICBMs, the surprisingly low limit on strategic delivery vehicles, the imbalance in Russian and U.S. stockpiles of so-called tactical nuclear weapons, the role of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), and the need for ongoing nuclear modernization. However, in almost every case, these references are in the form of “declarations,” which are “statements of purpose, policy, or position related to matters raised by the treaty in question but not altering or limiting any of its provisions.” Thus, these might not be included by President Obama in the formal provisions of the ratification instruments (and, hence, would not be shared with the Russian government).
The more effective path to addressing the now-acknowledged flaws of the treaty would be to include these references not as declarations, but as understandings and conditions, which would make clear both to the administration and to the Russians the baseline position of the Senate in its advice and consent. In this manner, the Senate could contribute greatly to U.S. security by stating that the United States will not accept further limitations on missile defenses or on prompt global strike, as well as by addressing directly the U.S. insistence that rail-mobile ICBMs be counted and that other potential ambiguities be resolved — before ratification and not in the BCC, which requires Russia’s agreement.
Treaty proponents, in arguing for prompt ratification of New START, have frequently pointed to bipartisan support for past arms-control agreements. As Stephen Rademaker, an assistant secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, has pointed out, the surest way to achieve prompt ratification is to address the doubts and reservations of treaty critics in meaningful ways, rather than pushing ahead with a vote on a partisan basis as the Obama administration did with the health-care legislation. To his great credit, Sen. Richard Lugar, whose support for the treaty as it currently stands we do not share, appears to be trying to do just that. To succeed, however, such an effort will need to do more than record the criticisms and reiterate the views of proponents that the treaty does not require any fixes.