April 29, 2010

Arms Control Experts Urge New START Approval

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dr. James Schlesinger and Dr. William Perry, two veteran arms control experts, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in testimony today that the New START Treaty should be approved for ratification by the Senate.

Both of them said they believe the Senate has an obligation to approve the treaty as an important step forward in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. They also said the treaty could improve Russian cooperation with the United States and other countries trying to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“I think it is obligatory for the United States to ratify this treaty,” said Dr. Schlesinger, who served in the administrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter.

Dr. Perry echoed the comment, saying the agreement does not restrict U.S. missile defenses and will foster international cooperation in the fight against nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. “Based on these judgments, I recommend that the Senate consent to the ratification of this treaty,” said Dr. Perry, who was secretary of defense in the Clinton administration.

The session marked the beginning of a series of hearings on the treaty that will be conducted by the committee in the coming weeks. The committee has responsibility for sending a recommendation to the full Senate on whether to approve ratification of the treaty, which was signed earlier this month by President Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev.

Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the committee, opened the hearing by promising testimony from administration officials and outside experts on all aspects of the treaty. The actual treaty and its annexes will be delivered to the Senate by the administration in the coming weeks.

“I welcome a thorough exploration of each of these issues,” said Senator Kerry. “But at the outset, I think we should focus on a single, overarching question: Does this treaty make us safer? From everything that I have read and heard so far, the answer to that question is yes.”

Dr. Schlesinger is a former director of central intelligence and secretary of defense and energy. He served in the administrations of President Richard Nixon, President Gerald Ford and President Jimmy Carter.

In his testimony, Dr. Schlesinger said there are several issues that the Senate should scrutinize carefully. But when asked whether the treaty should be approved, he said failure to ratify the agreement would have a detrimental effect on American ability to influence other countries on nonproliferation.

Dr. Perry was chairman of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, which issued a report last year that contained more than 100 recommendations on U.S. nuclear strategy. Dr. Schlesinger was vice chairman.

Dr. Perry told the senators that approving the treaty would reduce the likelihood of a terrorist organization obtaining weapons. He also said that the reduction in deployed warheads under the treaty is modest, but that the agreement represented a positive step by the United States in fulfilling its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He also said the treaty imposes no meaningful restraints on U.S. ability to develop and deploy ballistic missile defense systems or modernize its nuclear deterrence forces.

Dr. Schlesinger agreed that the treaty does not compromise U.S. missile defenses in a “serious way.” While he said the treaty limits American capacity to install missiles in existing ICBM silos or empty submarine launch tubes, he said the restrictions did not matter because the U.S. military has no plans to use these sorts of locations.

In fact, it was clear from testimony by the witnesses and remarks by the senators that converting ICBM silos to missile defense facilities makes no sense because it would be more expensive that building new facilities from scratch.

On the critical issue of verifying Russian compliance, both witnesses echoed opening remarks by Senator Kerry in emphasizing the need to restore verification measures as soon as possible. The START verification regime went away when the previous arms control treaty expired last December 5.