Obama and Medvedev sign new START

In their most recent op-ed in The Washington Post. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates assert that “Until a new treaty comes into force, our inspectors will not have access to Russian missile silos and the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals will lack the stability that comes with a rigorous inspection regime.”

Obviously, this is an effort by the Obama Administration to push the Senate to vote on the treaty during the “lame duck” session of the current Congress. But there are many reasons why New START should not be voted on during the “lame duck” session of the Congress.

The Senate does not have time to adequately evaluate the treaty during the packed “lame duck” schedule; especially because the newly seated Senators need time to become educated on the content of the treaty. In addition, the Russian Federation does not appear committed to New START ratification: On October 29 Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee (loyal to the Kremlin) proposed to his committee that it reconsider its earlier position in favor of ratification.

It is ironic that the Administration is citing the need for verification as justification for treaty ratification—after all, the present verification problem was created by the Administration. The White House did not take the advantage of a five-year extension possible under START I and instead insisted on negotiating a separate agreement. At that time, the Administration justified its approach by saying that it was more important to get the treaty right rather than get the treaty soon. The Senate considered the original START for nearly a year. The Moscow Treaty, which was far less complex than New START, was before the Senate for nearly nine months. The Obama Administration took more than 12 months to negotiate New START but has sought approval from the Senate in less than five. The rush to ratification undermines the important role of “advice and consent” that the Senate must exercise on any treaty of this magnitude.

The Administration’s claim for the urgent need to pass New START and initiate its verification provisions blatantly contradicts the Administration’s own public statements about the absence of any Russian military threat to the United States or U.S. allies. New START would increase U.S. reductions relative to Russia, and “concessions to Russian demands make it difficult to support Senate approval of the new treaty,” according to Ambassador James Woolsey.

Treaties such as New START, a major nuclear arms agreement, require more scrutiny than others. The Senate needs access to the negotiating record that includes all draft versions of New START, memoranda, notes, and communications between U.S. and Russian negotiators. This record is critical to clear up questions on key provisions in the treaty and specifically, how the Russians interpret them. The Senate is constitutionally mandated to give due diligence in its consideration of New START. This responsibility is not consistent with the rushed process the White House is seeking.