As START Set to Expire, Conservatives Reverse Selves on Key Provisions

December 4, 2009

Tomorrow, December 5, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is set to expire.  START, the largest arms control agreement in history, was spearheaded by Ronald Reagan and signed by George H.W. Bush in 1991 after a decade of negotiations.  The agreement was key to reducing Cold War nuclear tensions and set the precedent for intrusive inspection and verification measures that give each side confidence about the other’s arsenal – and which for that reason the US intelligence community highly values.  A START follow-on that maintains such monitoring while further reducing arsenals is critical to U.S. national security.  A new treaty enjoys tremendous bipartisan support, led by the “four horsemen” former Secretaries of State Kissinger and Shultz, former Secretary of Defense Perry and former Senator Nunn. A Council on Foreign Relations task force chaired by Perry and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft also recommended a follow-on agreement.

The negotiations are being held under tight secrecy with both sides committed to a media blackout.  Yet that has not stopped some conservatives in the Senate, like Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), from attacking the Obama administration, saying that they do not have a “bridging agreement” ready should a follow-on treaty not be in place before the expiration date.  Leading Senators who just seven years ago agreed with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that verification provisions were unnecessary have reversed their tune. But such criticism is baseless.  There was never the expectation that a new START follow-on would be in place before the December 5th deadline, which is why negotiators prepared a temporary agreement that will maintain all monitoring and verification procedures while ratification moves forward.  Indeed, the Administration has declined to rush the negotiations in order to make sure that our security needs are met – while conservatives have played politics with the talks.

Negotiators in Geneva close to agreement on vital follow-on as START treaty set to expire.  The follow-on agreement promotes vital American national security interests by reducing the size of Russia’s arsenal and increasing transparency about its status and location.  Reuters cites the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that “Under the 1991 deal, Russia has more than halved its nuclear arsenal, destroying over 3,000 intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 1,500 missile delivery units, 45 atomic submarines and more than 65 strategic bombers.”

Today, a joint U.S.-Russia Statement was released declaring the two sides’ commitment to an agreement: “Recognizing our mutual determination to support strategic stability between the United States of America and the Russian Federation, we express our commitment, as a matter of principle, to continue to work together in the spirit of the START Treaty following its expiration, as well as our firm intention to ensure that a new treaty on strategic arms enter into force at the earliest possible date.”  As the expiration date approaches the New York Times reports that  “The delegations are working marathon hours in Geneva to resolve differences over verification and to settle other details of an agreement that would reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads, missiles, bombers and submarines to their lowest levels in a half century. A mostly complete text has been written and translated, and there have been discussions about where to hold a signing ceremony.”  And Reuters reports today that, “Russia and the United States are close to a deal to cut vast arsenals of nuclear weapons, Russia said on Friday, as the world’s two biggest atomic powers rush to replace a Cold War treaty that expires at midnight… diplomats in Moscow and Washington are talking about finding a deal by the year-end, although it is still unclear when the two presidents could meet for a signing ceremony.” [Council on Foreign Relations U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy Task Force Report, 4/09. Reuters, 12/4/09. NY Times, 12/3/09.]

Conservatives play politics with erroneous assertions:  U.S. and Russia affirm that key verification provisions remain in place.  Relieving concerns that there may be an enforcement gap before a replacement treaty is concluded and ratified, the Associate Press reports today that there will not be a gap in the provisions of the treaty saying, “its key provisions are likely to remain in effect while negotiators work out the final details of a replacement treaty. Neither the U.S. nor Russia anticipates security problems after expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Negotiators had given up hope months ago of having a new deal ratified and in place before the expiration at midnight Greenwich Mean Time, which is 7 p.m. EST.” Senator Jon Kyl, R-AZ, has claimed that  “no one appears to know what will come next. That we don’t have answers to these questions is alarming, more so because our negotiators must have known for months that a ‘bridge’ would be necessary.’”

But, as Arms Control Association Executive Director Daryl Kimball pointed out, “[a]ctually, the two sides have been discussing the bridging mechanism for months, but have not publicized the details because it was the subject of ongoing negotiations.” As the AFP reported in November, the White House has anticipated that a new start agreement would not pass through either the U.S. Senate or the Russian Duma in time for START’s expiration, and so had been negotiating a bridging agreement for months: “White House advisor Mike McFaul said that while an agreement was expected in December, it could not be ratified by the legislatures in both countries by December 5 when START expires. ‘What I do know for sure is that we will not have a ratified treaty in place by December 5. It still has to go through the US Senate and the Russian Duma,’ he told reporters. ‘What is for sure is that we do need a bridging agreement,’ he said, adding this was being worked on in the talks in parallel to discussions on the main treaty.” [Foreign Policy, the Cable, 11/23/09. Daryl Kimball, 12/03/09. AFP, 11/15/09. AP, 12/4/09]

START complications a direct result of Bush administration’s failed nonproliferation legacy.  The conservatives’ critique represents a complete turnaround from their views during the Bush Administration, when Kyl, Secretary Rumsfeld and others asserted that the U.S. no longer needed to verify Russia’s disarmament.    As the Arms Control Association’s Daryl Kimball points out, this is something conservatives in Congress have chosen to ignore: “In place of START II and START III, U.S. and Russian leaders concluded the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which calls for no more than 2,200 strategic deployed warheads each by the year 2012. But unlike START, the 3-page SORT did not establish any limits on strategic nuclear delivery systems, nor does it mandate their destruction. Non-deployed warheads may be held in reserve for potential redeployment. Making matters worse, SORT established no new verification mechanism, instead relying on START’s.”

In 2002, then-Secretary Rumsfeld observed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “During the Cold War, the stated rationale for arms control was to constrain an arms race. But the idea of an arms race between the United States and Russia today is ludicrous.”

At the time, Kyl supported Rumsfeld, calling START and its monitoring provisions “tortured” and “arcane,” and the treaty itself a ‘700-page behemoth’ that ‘would not serve America’s real security needs.” Surprisingly, Kyl is now deeply concerned with inspections and verification.

As the Washington Times reported, congressional conservatives have also raised a stink over the closure of the monitoring facility at Votkinsk.  But this is happening because the Bush administration conceded it in November 2008.  Paula A. DeSutter, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation in the Bush administration was quoted saying, “We didn’t need the entire verification regime from START.”  Now, however, conservative views have changed.  According to the Times, one senior Republican Senate aide said “When Votkinsk goes away, Russia could deploy hundreds of missiles…We are worried about what Russia will do that we are not going to know.”  [Daryl Kimball, 12/03/09. Donald Rumsfeld, 7/17/02. Washington Times, 12/01/09. Max Bergmann, 12/03/09. Jeffrey Lewis, 12/02/09]

What We’re Reading

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stresses in hearings that the timeline for Afghanistan will be based on conditions on the ground. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Europe to meet with NATO allies to discuss their contributions to President Obama’s new Afghanistan plan, including their plan to add 7,000 new troops.

The White House has authorized the CIA to increase the number of drone attacks on Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan. Militants attacked a mosque in Rawalpindi, killing 30 and injuring more than 40 people.

Suicide bombings continue in Iraq, with the latest series killing five, including a senior police chief.

Military commissions to try “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents” are to begin this week at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

The death toll of a suicide bombing in Somalia that killed three government ministers has risen to 19.

A GAO report indicates that the United States has only delivered 2% of the total amount of aid it had promised Mexico to assist in the country’s ongoing war against drug cartels.

Recently released documents show the deliberate use of extrajudicial killings of civilians in Guatemala during the rule of its military dictator in the 1980’s.

An insurgent leader in India has been apprehended by authorities in Bangladesh.

A Burmese court will hear the appeal of democracy dissident Daw Aung San Suu Kyi over an 18-month extension of her house arrest.

The United States wants Japan to quickly designate a new location for a US marine air station on Okinawa that local Japanese residents want moved.

Commentary of the Day

Martin Indyk urges more patience for President Obama’s Middle East policy, suggesting that the United States allow all parties more responsibility over maintaining the momentum for peace talks.

Senator James Webb supports President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan, and asks for further clarification on how the policy will achieve an endgame.

Tariq Ahmad explains his faith in secular forces taming radical Islam, rather than a religious debate stamping out extremism.

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