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The treaty is a key tool to protect the United States against nuclear threats

By John Kerry
Posted: August 16, 2010

John Kerry is a Democratic senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Ratifying the New START treaty is a common-sense step that will make America safer. Since the Reagan administration, the Senate has approved every U.S.-Russian strategic arms control agreement with broad bipartisan support. In negotiating and signing this treaty, President Obama has followed a tradition pursued by every president for the last 40 years—Republican and Democrat—to reduce nuclear dangers by shrinking the U.S. and Russian arsenals and instituting vigorous verification procedures that will give us a clearer picture of Russia’s nuclear capabilities. This treaty will improve our relationship with Moscow, while strengthening the global nonproliferation regime to help us stop rogue states and terrorists trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

For all these reasons, the treaty will be a key tool in our efforts to protect the United States against nuclear threats. But the Senate must approve the agreement before it can take effect, and its advice and consent is not a rubber stamp. That is why the Foreign Relations Committee led a thorough review of this treaty. Since April, my colleagues and I have conducted 12 hearings, with over 20 witnesses from across the political spectrum. We questioned the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We heard from the treaty’s negotiators, the senior military officers who oversee our nuclear deterrence and missile defense efforts, representatives of our intelligence community, and the directors of the nation’s three nuclear weapons laboratories. In our effort to consider a wide range of views, we heard from officials who served Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43. These witnesses overwhelmingly supported timely ratification of the New START treaty.

Opponents of the treaty have yet to convincingly explain why their judgment differs so significantly from that of our current and former military and diplomatic leaders—a long and distinguished list that includes six former secretaries of state, five former secretaries of defense, three former national security advisers, and seven former commanders of our nuclear forces. Some have argued that the treaty will undercut our nuclear deterrent, even though the general currently responsible for commanding it argues precisely the opposite. Others have claimed that the treaty will restrict our missile defenses, even though the man in charge of the Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, testified, “I do not see any limitation on my ability to develop missile defenses.” Some have complained that, if we ratify this treaty, we might not build a Star Wars-type missile defense against Russia, even though Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained that our goal for over 20 years has been to protect against a limited attack, not a massive strike.

Why is this treaty less deserving of approval than, say, the original START treaty, whose reductions were significantly more dramatic and which was signed in 1991, at a time of great international upheaval? Why, nearly 20 years later, when relations with Moscow are far better, would we not agree to modest reductions in our nuclear arsenals? Why, when the fight against proliferation is ever more crucial, would we not approve a treaty that will encourage international cooperation in the fight against the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states like Iran?

The opponents of New START cannot provide good answers to these questions. All they can do is stand in the way of common sense—and of our nation’s security.


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