In her testimony today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee urging the Senate to consent to the ratification of the April 8th Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated the following:

Now, some may argue that we don’t need the new START treaty. But the choice before us is between this treaty and no treaty governing our nuclear security relationship with Russia, between this treaty and no agreed verification mechanisms on Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, between this treaty and no legal obligation for Russia to maintain its strategic nuclear forces below an agreed level. And as Secretary Gates has pointed out, every previous president who faced this choice has found that the United States is better off with a treaty than without one, and the United States Senate has always agreed. The 2002 Moscow Treaty was approved by a vote of 95 to nothing. The 1991 START treaty was approved by 93 to 6.

In these areas, Secretary Clinton’s testimony is factually incorrect on both counts. First, the Senate’s choice is not between this treaty or no treaty. The Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on Strategic Offensive Reductions of May 24, 2002 (Moscow Treaty) is in force today and will remain in force if New START is not ratified, according to its terms, until the end of calendar 2012.

Second, there has not been an unbroken record of Senate support for bilateral strategic nuclear arms control treaties with the Soviet Union or Russia. The Senate’s support for the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty II (SALT II) of June 18, 1979 was so tepid that President Carter, on January 3, 1980, asked it to defer consideration.

Above all, the Senate needs to keep in mind the exceedingly low standards that Secretary Clinton believes it should use to judge the merits of New START. The standard she would have the Senate apply is whether New START is better than nothing. It certainly appears that this is the low standard that the Obama Administration observed in the negotiating process because it has produced a weak treaty. Now, it is asserting that the Senate has no choice but to support it. The Obama Administration would have found that obtaining Senate consent is easier if it had set high standards in the negotiations and not produced such a weak treaty.