This article was originally published by the Washington Post.
The Senate should promptly vote to approve the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) with Russia for one reason: It increases U.S. national security. This is precisely why Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared at the outset of Senate consideration of the treaty that it has “the unanimous support of America’s military leadership.”
The treaty reduces and caps the Russian nuclear arsenal. It reestablishes and makes stronger the verification procedures that allow U.S. inspectors to conduct on-site inspections and surveillance of Russian nuclear weapons and facilities. It strengthens international efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism, and it opens the door to progress on further critical nonproliferation efforts, such as reducing Russian tactical nuclear weapons.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has urged the Senate to ratify the treaty, and seven former Strategic Command (STRATCOM) chiefs have called on Senate leaders to move quickly.
In addition to our military leadership, there is overwhelming bipartisan support for the treaty among national security experts. Also, officials from the past seven administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, testified before Senate committees in support of the treaty. In fact, the number of Republican former officials testifying outnumbered the number of Democrats.
We were part of a group of 30 former national security leaders from both political parties — including former secretary of state Colin Powell, former defense secretary Frank Carlucci and former national security adviser Sandy Berger — who published an open letter in support of the treaty.
The Senate has done its due diligence: Over the course of 21 hearings and briefings during the last five months, senators have had the opportunity to ask questions and put to rest concerns. From the director of the Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, senators learned that the treaty in no way limits the ability of our military to deploy the missile defenses it needs or wants. From STRATCOM Commander Kevin Chilton, they learned that with the treaty in place, the United States will retain a strong and reliable deterrent. Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even delayed the committee vote on the treaty to give senators an extra month to review background materials and seek answers to their questions.
Now it is time to act.
While substantive questions about the treaty have been put to rest, some senators are trying to delay consideration of it based on an unrelated funding issue, namely, claims that future funding for the U.S. nuclear arsenal might be insufficient.
This is wrong for two reasons.
First, these claims fly in the face of the considered opinions of Chilton and National Nuclear Security Administration head Thomas D’Agostino, the men charged with overseeing our nuclear weapons and weapons laboratories. They, along with Gates and Mullen, have made clear that the administration’s 10-year, $80 billion plan to modernize our nuclear infrastructure, which would result in a 15 percent increase over current spending levels, represents the funding level that is needed and can be executed in a timely manner.
More important, delaying this treaty over an unrelated matter undermines our national security.
By the time the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes Sept. 16 on whether to send the treaty to the Senate floor for ratification, it will have been more than 280 days and counting since the United States lost the ability to conduct on-site inspections, monitoring and verification of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. This ability will not begin again until the treaty is ratified.
As Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) told the committee, “The problem of the breakdown of our verification, which lapsed Dec. 5, is very serious and impacts our national security.”
Given the national security stakes and the overwhelming support from the military and national security community, we hope that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will send the treaty to the floor with robust bipartisan backing and that senators will promptly ratify it with the kind of resounding margin such measures have historically enjoyed.
Senate approval of New START would send a strong message to the world that the United States can overcome partisan differences and take concrete, practical action to reduce the nuclear threat and enhance our nation’s security.