With our troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq and global terrorists challenging us in complex and evolving ways, Americans have a straightforward opportunity to reduce the dangers we confront. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which President Obama signed in April, is the latest in a series of commonsense arms control agreements to control the world’s most dangerous weapons and enhance stability between the two countries that possess some 90 percent of them.
With a simple vote, the Senate could approve this treaty, limiting the number of nuclear weapons that can be aimed at the United States and reinforcing our nonproliferation efforts worldwide. Our past and present military leaders overwhelmingly support the treaty because it makes us safer.
Some have suggested that we don't have enough time to vote and we should wait for the new Congress. This is a recipe for endless delay. The Foreign Relations Committee and other Senate committees have thoroughly examined the agreement over the last six months. There have been 18 hearings and multiple briefings for committees and the entire Senate. Senators have formally submitted some 900 questions to the Obama administration — and received thorough responses to each. In short, this Senate has done its homework, and this group of senators should vote on the treaty.
From the beginning, skeptics claimed that the accord weakened our ability to deploy missiles defenses essential to our national security. Our senior military commanders and the treaty negotiators were unanimous in public testimony and classified briefings — this treaty imposes no limit on US missile defense plans. Contrary to the naysayers, the record is crystal clear: There are no secret agreements that compromise our missile defense capabilities. In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates testified to Congress that the only discussion of missile defense with the Russians regarded potential cooperation — not limitations, something presidents of both parties have sought for decades.
Concerns have also been raised about funding to modernize our nuclear weapons complex. Again, the record is clear: After a decade of neglect, this administration is committed to a robust plan to spend $85 billion over the next 10 years to ensure that our nuclear weapons are reliable. I made sure a down payment was made last month by including $100 million in new funding in the budget. In addition, the administration has provided detailed answers to dozens of questions and conducted numerous briefings on its modernization plans.
Again, there is plenty of time to consider this treaty. When the Senate returns Monday, there will be 33 days before the end of the year. The original START agreement in 1991 made deeper cuts in our nuclear weapons and the full Senate needed only five days of debate to approve it, 93 to 6. A significant national security matter hangs in the balance and the Senate should be willing to work overtime to allow for a full and complete consideration of the treaty. If time is the only concern, then we should have no concerns.
There are important policy reasons for ratifying now. New START will limit the number of nuclear weapons that Russia can deploy and give us an unequaled look into its nuclear forces through on-the-ground inspections. Without it, we know too little about the only arsenal in the world with the potential to destroy the United States. As James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said of ratifying New START, “I think the earlier, the sooner, the better.”
What’s more, New START will preserve the cooperative relationship that we have developed with Russia — especially at a key moment in preventing Iran from getting the bomb. Russia backed the United States in imposing stricter UN sanctions on Iran and canceled its sale of an advanced air defense system that Iran’s leaders wanted. At the same time, the United States and the European Union have strengthened their own sanctions on Iran. We must not shatter this fragile consensus. If Iran senses a breach in international will, it could exploit the gap — and perhaps take a step closer to becoming a nuclear-weapons state. At this critical time, we must remain united.
If differences remain, we have sufficient time to have a floor debate and consider amendments. But it is time to have fewer nuclear weapons aimed at the United States, time to have the right to inspect Russian facilities, and time to keep Moscow as an ally in the fight against Iranian proliferation. Now is the time to ratify this treaty.
Senator John F. Kerry is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.