The United States and Russia maintain over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arsenal of some 23,000 nuclear weapons. The original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between our two countries that has provided for inspections and monitoring of these weapons expired nearly a year ago. The Senate now must ratify the New START treaty by a 2/3 margin (67 votes) to preserve the security protections of on-the-ground intelligence we have relied upon.
You may well ask what is taking our Senators so long? Sometimes the only solutions can be provided by government at the highest levels. The old START treaty was backed by Ronald Reagan, Bush I, Clinton. and now President Obama backs New START. Kennedy and Nixon supported efforts to curb nuclear proliferation. Bush II relied on START verification issues for his treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT), better known as the Moscow Treaty. The mandate for strategic arms reduction appears to be bi-partisan and firm.
With such mighty support from the presidential level, why the delay? Nine months without a treaty? Nine months without safeguards and verification?
Legitimate questions have been asked and answered through 21 open and classified hearings. The testimony of more than 20 expert hearing witnesses has been heard, and New START has overwhelming support from across the political spectrum. Presidents and America’s military leadership (flag officers, former and current) support the treaty. Yet, Republicans are fence sitting, balking, or pushing it off.
We have now gone months without critical intelligence from on-site verification and monitoring in Russia. With the expiration of the START Treaty, our inspectors lost access to dozens of Russian sites. If the new treaty is not ratified we will lose this critical information and American national security will be at greater risk.
Failure to ratify New START would send a message of indifference to Russia and the rest of the world, voiding decades of arms control policy. Failure to ratify would be a warning sign to the world that the U.S. no longer stands behind its nuclear commitments.
Standard-bearers and negotiators for nuclear weapons controls in the United States span the spectrum from conservative to liberal. This is a subject so momentous it defies partisan politics. Or, it should.
This time, our negotiating team has the distinction of being led by very accomplished women. In decades past, Russian negotiators balked when there was a woman on the U.S. negotiating team.
Today the issue for the Russians is not U.S. chief negotiator Rose Gottemoeller’s gender, it is her formidable credentials. According to the Washington Post, “one Russian military newspaper warned of the ‘danger’ in striking a deal with a woman who had run the Moscow Carnegie Center and had an ‘inside knowledge of Moscow’s logic.’”
While there is the sharp partisan divide in the Senate these days, in the past Senators have left politics at the water’s edge and risen to the occasion to address pressing national security issues. The threats posed by nuclear terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear materials, and a lack of transparency and access to Russia’s nuclear weapons program is too dangerous to delay action any further.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the New START treaty on September 16th. It is now up to the whole Senate.
Susan Shaer is executive director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), a national nonpartisan peace and security group, and national co-chair of Win Without War.