STRATCOM Support Bolsters Consensus on New START

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STRATCOM Support Bolsters Consensus on New START

As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee moves closer to a vote on the New START accord, another distinguished group of national security officials joined the chorus of support for the New START Treaty.  Seven former Commanders of the United States Strategic Command sent a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee today, saying, “We strongly endorse its early ratification and entry into force.”  As the men who were responsible for America’s strategic nuclear forces, their support is pivotal.

With questions answered and deliberations coming to a close, some conservatives in the Senate must now decide on what the price for ratification will be and how long they will let our critical verification programs slide.  The public release this week of the State Department’s Compliance Report, after a 5-year Bush Administration lapse, is a reminder of why we want intrusive on-ground inspection measures in place. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has explained, “For nearly 40 years, treaties to limit or reduce nuclear weapons have been approved by the U.S. Senate by strong bipartisan majorities. This treaty deserves a similar reception and result-on account of the dangerous weapons it reduces, the critical defense capabilities it preserves, the strategic stability it maintains, and, above all, the security it provides to the American people.”

Former STRATCOM Commanders urge ratification of New START.  Seven retired Commanders of STRATCOM, the combatant command center responsible for America’s strategic deterrence, strongly urged ratification of the new START accord in a letter to Senate leaders:  “We are writing to express our support for ratification of the New START Treaty. The treaty will enhance American national security in several important ways.  First … continuing the formal strategic arms reduction process will contribute to a more productive and safer relationship with Russia.  Second, the New START Treaty contains verification and transparency measures… that will give us important insights into Russian strategic nuclear forces and how they operate those forces. We will understand Russian strategic forces much better with the treaty than would be the case without it. For example, the treaty permits on-site inspections that will allow us to observe and confirm the number of warheads on individual Russian missiles; we cannot do that with just national technical means of verification. That kind of transparency will contribute to a more stable relationship between our two countries. It will also give us greater predictability about Russian strategic forces, so that we can make better-informed decisions about how we shape and operate our own forces. Third, although the New START Treaty will require U.S. reductions, we believe that the post-treaty force will represent a survivable, robust and effective deterrent, one fully capable of deterring attack on both the United States and America’s allies and partners.”  The Generals and Admirals also pointed out that “the treaty provides no meaningful constraint on U.S. missile defense plans. The prohibition on placing missile defense interceptors in ICBM or SLBM launchers does not constrain us from planned deployments.” The letter closes with a clear and ringing endorsement: “We strongly endorse its early ratification and entry into force.” [STRATCOM Letter, 7/14/10]

The verdict is in: National security experts agree that New START is essential to our national security.  After 12 hearings and testimony from 22 witnesses, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has scheduled a Business Meeting on August 3 to discuss the New START Treaty and its ratification.  Over the past several months, Senators have methodically reviewed and scrutinized the New START Treaty and its supporting documents.  Multiple Senate committees have held an extensive series of hearings and briefings.  The Administration has committed to spending well over $80 billion over the next ten years to ensure that our nuclear forces are second to none.  Of all the military officials, scientists, and national security experts who appeared before Senate committees, not one advocated that the Senate reject this treaty.  The support for the New START accord has been overwhelming.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen was clear: “Through the trust it engenders, the cuts it requires, and the flexibility it preserves, this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we have been charged to do: protect and defend the citizens of the United States.”  [Admiral Michael Mullen, 3/27/10]

Senate conservatives must decide on price for ratification and how long they’ll let our verification activities slip.  Yesterday, the Cable’s Josh Rogin reported that several conservatives in the Senate were leaning toward a ‘yes’ vote on New START, but were attempting to force concessions from the administration before deciding.  Rogin described the latest developments on the Hill: “The key senator to watch is Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republican point man on the treaty. Kyl, who is in talks with the office of Vice President Joseph Biden, isn’t saying which way he’s leaning — but his friends say Kyl is getting closer to supporting ratification. Utah Sen. Bob Bennett told The Cable in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he wants to vote for the treaty, but is holding off until he gets the nod from his leadership. ‘I’m waiting for Senator Kyl to finish his analysis, but he’s leaning yes and I’m leaning yes,’ Bennett said.” Rogin added that “[o]ther GOP senators aren’t yet showing their cards, and are withholding their support until their particular concerns are addressed.”

Each day that passes without the treaty in place is another which finds the U.S. and Russia without verification measures that are vital for national security. The State Department’s Compliance Assessment Report, publicly released this week after a 5-year lapse by the Bush Administration, documents progress resolving US-Russia nuclear compliance issues, and the need to move quickly to add the intrusive on-site inspections and monitoring provided under New START.   Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) said last year: “Our experiences over many years have proven the effectiveness of the Treaty’s verification provisions and served to build a basis for confidence between the two countries when doubts arose.  The bottom line is that the United States is far safer as a result of those 600 START inspections than we would be without them.” General Kevin Chilton, STRATCOM Commander, testified, “If we don’t get the treaty, [the Russians] are not constrained in their development of force structure and … we have no insight into what they’re doing. So it’s the worst of both possible worlds. ” [The Cable, 7/27/10. Senator Lugar (R-IN), 11/5/09. General Chilton, 4/22/10]

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