The New START Agreement: The Ratification Fight

  • photo courtesy of US Mission Geneva
    Jul 12, 2010

    Q1: Will the New START agreement be ratified soon in the U.S. and Russian legislatures?

    A1: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee just finished eight weeks of hearings on the New START agreement, and administration officials hope for its ratification by the end of summer. Right now, the treaty’s prospects for gaining the required two-thirds majority appear strong. The 59 Senate Democrats and Independents are expected to vote for it. Although Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and other Republicans have criticized certain aspects of the treaty, they have stopped short of opposing it outright. Only Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has publicly declared that he plans to vote against New START. Beyond the November elections, however, the political calculus could change if Democrats lose seats in the Senate.
    In Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev’s ruling party commands more votes than the simple majority required in both houses of the Federal Assembly. However, Russian officials have stated that they will ratify the treaty simultaneously with the United States to avoid a repeat of their experience with the extension protocol to START II, which Russia ratified and the United States did not.

    Q2: How do supporters and opponents of New START line up?

    A2: An extensive list of national security luminaries has testified in support of New START, including former secretary of state James Baker, former secretary of defense William Perry, and former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. Along with Senate Democrats, they assert that New START will enhance U.S. national security at lower levels of nuclear weapons, as well as stabilize the U.S.-Russia relationship and open the door to cooperation in other areas of mutual concern. Although weapons reductions will be modest, the new treaty will replace the verification regime that expired with the lapse of START I in December 2009. The new regime, supporters argue, will provide the United States with more accurate information about the status of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. U.S. nuclear deterrence will remain effective with 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons. At the same time, according to supporters, the reductions will demonstrate the United States’ commitment to the nonproliferation regime and reduce the threat that terrorists could gain access to nuclear weapons.

    Senate Republicans and witnesses stopped short of open opposition to the treaty but raised a number of questions. Their principal concern was missile defense: Would the treaty’s language acknowledging “the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms” serve as a limitation on U.S. missile defense? Would counting rules limit U.S. advantages in long-range precision missiles? Should the United States even continue this bilateral process, given its extended deterrence commitments to its many allies? So far, these criticisms have not coalesced into a unified opposition, and it is unclear what stance the GOP leadership will take.

    Q3: If the treaty is ratified, what comes next?

    A3: The Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review called for a review of post–New START arms control objectives. U.S. officials have called for the next treaty to include deep weapons reductions, including limits on tactical nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, Russian officials will want any successor treaty to limit ballistic missile defenses. Differences in these areas will be much more difficult to resolve than those addressed in New START. Furthermore, if reductions involve cuts below 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, the United States might have to reexamine a number of aspects of its nuclear posture, including whether its traditional “nuclear triad” of delivery systems is still practical or desirable. Further down the road, the United States and Russia will need to consider at what point China and perhaps the other nuclear weapons states ought to be brought into the discussion.

    Sharon Squassoni is senior fellow and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Robert Golan-Vilella is an intern with the CSIS Proliferation Prevention Program.

    Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
    © 2010 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.


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