President Obama yesterday signed the U.S. instrument of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia yet did not release the text of the document to the public. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to exchange this instrument with the Russian government’s corresponding instrument this weekend in Germany, which is the last step required for bringing the treaty into force. The Senate should be suspicious for two reasons.

First, it should be suspicious about the White House’s failure to make public the text of the U.S. instrument, because the Senate’s resolution of ratification instructed the President to include three understandings in the instrument.

  1. The first relates to the legal standing of the treaty’s preamble and the sweeping restrictions that the language in the preamble would impose on the U.S. missile defense program.
  2. The second relates to possible Russian deployment of a rail-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system and ensuring that such a system will be covered under treaty limits.
  3. The third relates to the deployment of conventionally armed strategic offensive arms (called Prompt Global Strike in the U.S.).

There is no good reason why the White House would not release the text of the instrument the President signed unless it has something to hide. The question for the Senate is whether the understandings it attached to New START are accurately reflected in the language of the instrument. If the language is watered down, then the President will have undermined the role of the Senate in the treaty-making process. Regarding national security, watered-down language could provide the Russians with an avenue for taking the following three actions:

1)      Curtailing U.S. missile defense options by pointing to the language on that subject in New START’s preamble;

2)      Deploying rail-mobile ICBMs outside the limits imposed on other strategic offensive arms by the treaty; and

3)      Stopping U.S. deployment of a Prompt Global Strike system that is based non-ballistic flight characteristics or “boosted aerodynamic flight.”

The Senate should also be suspicious that the White House is withholding release of the U.S. instrument of ratification because it provides an excuse for the Russian government not to make public its instrument. As yet, the text of the Russian instrument has not been made public either. The Russian Duma’s ratification law, however, indicates that the Russian instrument may contain understandings that are incompatible with those the Senate insisted be included in the U.S. instrument in two of the three areas described above. These are in the areas of the standing of the preamble and missile defense and the options for the deployment of certain kinds of Prompt Global Strike systems.

The Senate and the public deserve the opportunity to compare the text of the two instruments prior to their exchange in order to determine whether such inconsistencies exist. Senator Jon Kyl (R–AZ) spoke to the problem of their being “no meeting of the minds” between U.S. and Russian negotiators regarding these two issues in a January 31 floor statement. His warning deserves the attention of all other Senators and the American public.

If the Senate comes to find that the U.S. instrument of ratification does not properly reflect the language of the understandings it included in the resolution of ratification or that inconsistencies between the U.S. and Russian instruments ratification regarding any of these three understandings exist, it should demand that Secretary Clinton not proceed with the exchange. Clearly, it would be inappropriate for the Administration to ignore clear instructions by the Senate as included in its resolution of ratification.