Chairman Kerry’s Floor Statement On New START
Washington, D.C. – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) today delivered remarks regarding the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) on the Senate floor.
Highlights from Chairman Kerry’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Again and again, senior military leaders have said unambiguously that this treaty does not limit our missile defense plans. So, the chief substantive concern about this treaty has been laid to rest.”
“One of our most solemn responsibilities as members of the United States Senate is to provide our advice and consent on treaties. How we do so—whether we do so—sends a message about our country. Can America still do business in the world, is it still a credible partner, or is our political system so gummed up that we can’t get anything done? With this vote, we can demonstrate our resolve and our leadership.”
“Overwhelmingly, these witnesses supported timely ratification of the New START Treaty—and, as I said, some of the strongest endorsements came from America’s military leaders. The combined wisdom of our current and former military and civilian leaders, accumulated over decades in service not to political parties but to our nation’s security, was clear: This treaty should be ratified.”
“Forget the precedent, though: when it comes to protecting our national security, the American people always expect us to make the time. And that’s exactly what we’re prepared to do. We will work around the clock. If time is the only concern, then we have no concerns. Given the time it took to consider past treaties, it’s clear that we can do this. We’re not new to this business—we can get this treaty done.”
“But ultimately we need to approve this treaty because it is critical to U.S. security. It is better to have fewer nuclear weapons aimed at the United States, to have the right to inspect Russian facilities, and to have Moscow as an ally in the fight against Iranian proliferation. Our military thinks it is better to have these things. If my colleagues disagree, let them make that case to the full Senate—and to the American people.”
The full text of Chairman Kerry’s remarks as prepared for delivery:
Mr. President, we live in difficult times. As we speak, American soldiers are fighting a war in Afghanistan and winding down a war in Iraq. Our nation is engaged in a constant struggle against terrorism. Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance, while North Korea is building a uranium-enrichment facility and provoking the South with its military aggression. These are complex challenges without easy solutions. But, amid them, the United States Senate has been given an opportunity to reduce the dangers this country faces. With a simple vote, we could approve the New START Treaty.
New START is a commonsense agreement to control the world’s most dangerous weapons and enhance stability between the two countries that possess some 90 percent of them. It will limit the number of nuclear weapons that Russia can deploy to 1,550 warheads. It will give us flexibility in deploying our own arsenal on land, in the air, and at sea. And its verification provisions will deepen our understanding of Russia’s nuclear forces. It has been almost a full year now since the original START Treaty and its verification provisions expired, and every day since then, the insight that treaty provided has been degrading.
New START will also strengthen our relationship with Russia and enhance the global non-proliferation regime. It will improve our efforts to constrain Iran and to secure loose nuclear materials that could be used by terrorists. Already, in the seven months since we signed New START, Russia has joined us in supporting harsher sanctions against Iran, and it has suspended its sale of the S-300 air defense system to Tehran. And the original START agreement was the bedrock of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program—the most successful nonproliferation effort ever. Without New START, I worry for the future of that crucial initiative.
In short, New START helps us address the lingering dangers of the old nuclear age, while giving us an important tool to combat the threats of this new nuclear age.
Indeed, the single most significant question about the substance of this treaty has been whether it limits our missile defenses, which we need to counteract rogue states. Unequivocally, the answer is no, it does not. The Secretary of Defense says it does not. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says it does not. The commander of our nuclear forces says it does not. The director of the Missile Defense Agency says it does not. Again and again, senior military leaders have said unambiguously that this treaty does not limit our missile defense plans. So, the chief substantive concern about this treaty has been laid to rest.
Now, we are hearing that time is the primary concern—that there aren’t enough days to consider the treaty on the floor before the end of the year. One implication is that the Senate’s review of New START has not been thorough enough. Well, let’s examine that suggestion, Mr. President. I think the record clearly shows how thorough we have been.
This Senate has been working on this treaty for the past year and a half—ever since negotiations first began. Starting in June 2009, the Foreign Relations Committee was briefed at least five times during the talks with the Russians. Senators from the Armed Services Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate’s National Security Working Group also took part in those briefings. So roughly 60 of us were able to follow the negotiations in detail. Individual senators had additional opportunities to meet with our negotiating team, and a delegation of senators even traveled to Geneva in the fall of 2009 to meet with the negotiators.
In other words, by the time New START was formally submitted to the Senate this May, the 111th Congress was already steeped in this treaty—no other Senate can replicate the input that we had into the negotiations. And over the next six months, this Senate became even more immersed in the treaty’s details—through hearings, briefings, documents, and hundreds and hundreds of questions that it submitted to the administration. This Senate has done its homework on New START, and it is this Senate that must vote on it.
Besides, there are important national security reasons not to wait. Next Sunday—December 5—it will have been one year since the original START Treaty expired. A full year without on-the-ground inspections. Some say it doesn’t make a difference whether we wait a few more months. Well, when it comes to uncertainty about nuclear arsenals, I think a few months does matter. Without this treaty, 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.”
One of our most solemn responsibilities as members of the United States Senate is to provide our advice and consent on treaties. How we do so—whether we do so—sends a message about our country. Can America still do business in the world, is it still a credible partner, or is our political system so gummed up that we can’t get anything done? With this vote, we can demonstrate our resolve and our leadership.
I think the schedule of the Foreign Relations Committee shows just how much we have done so far. After the treaty was signed in April, Senator Lugar and I worked together to set up a bipartisan review of the treaty. Our primary considerations in scheduling witnesses were not support or opposition for the treaty; they were the expertise and experience of the witnesses.
On April 29, the Committee heard from Bill Perry, former Secretary of Defense; and Jim Schlesinger, former Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Energy, and Director of Central Intelligence. These men recently led the congressionally mandated Strategic Posture Commission, and they both said that we should approve New START. Dr. Schlesinger said that it is “obligatory” for the United States to ratify New START. And Dr. Perry told us that this treaty advances American security objectives, particularly with respect to “nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.”
On May 18, the Committee held a hearing with Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen. Admiral Mullen told us that the New START Treaty “has the full support of your uniformed military.” Secretary Gates made clear that the treaty will not constrain U.S. missile defense efforts. He said, “From the very beginning of this process, more than 40 years ago, the Russians have hated missile defense. … They don’t want to devote the resources to it, so they try and stop us from doing it, through political means. This treaty doesn’t accomplish that for them.”
The next day, former Secretary of State Jim Baker, who helped negotiate START I and START II, said that New START “appears to take our country in a direction that can enhance our national security while at the same time reducing the number of nuclear warheads on the planet.” And a week later, on May 25, Henry Kissinger recommended ratification of the treaty. He also cautioned us that rejection of the treaty would, in his words, “have an unsettling impact on the international environment.”
We also heard from two former national security advisers. Stephen Hadley, who served under George W. Bush, told us that the treaty is “a modest but nonetheless useful contribution to the national security of the United States and to international security.” And Brent Scowcroft, who served under George H.W. Bush, said that he supports the treaty. He told us that New START does not restrict our missile defense plans, and he said that the Russian unilateral statement was simply an issue of “domestic politics.”
So we heard from some of the most eminent statesmen this country has produced—Republicans and Democrats—with decades and decades of collective public service. They said that we should approve this treaty. In all, six former secretaries of state, five former secretaries of defense, the chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, and numerous other distinguished Americans have said how important it is that we approve New START. And on July 14, seven former heads of U.S. Strategic Command and Strategic Air Command sent the Committee a letter urging approval of the Treaty.
Indeed, some of the strongest support for this treaty has come from the military, which unanimously supports the treaty. On June 16, I chaired a hearing on the U.S. nuclear posture, modernization of the nuclear weapons complex, and our missile defense plans. General Kevin P. Chilton, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, who is responsible for overseeing our nuclear deterrent, explained why the military supports New START. He said “If we don’t get the treaty, (a) [the Russians are] not constrained in their development of force structure, and (b) we have no insight into what they’re doing. So, it’s the worst of both possible worlds.”
And Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, who heads the Missile Defense Agency, told us that New START does not limit our missile defense plans: “I have briefed the Russians, personally in Moscow, on every aspect of our missile defense development. I believe they understand what that is. And that those plans for development are not limited by this Treaty.” In other words, the Russians know what we intend to do, and they signed the treaty nonetheless.
On July 14, the Committee held a closed hearing on monitoring and verification of treaty compliance with senior officials from the Intelligence Community. Obviously, that was a highly classified discussion. But every senator is welcome to go down to the Office of Senate Security and read the transcript from that hearing. If my colleagues want a public statement on verification, I would once again cite what James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said last week about ratifying the New START treaty: “I think the earlier, the sooner, the better. You know, my thing is, from an intelligence perspective only, are we better off with it or without it? We’re better off with it.”
The Committee also heard testimony from the directors of the nation’s three nuclear weapons laboratories. As we all know, much of the debate on the treaty has focused on the resources that are needed to sustain our nuclear deterrent and modernize our nuclear weapons infrastructure, and it was important for our Committee to hear from the responsible officials directly. They praised the Obama administration’s budget request for this fiscal year and the plan of action outlined for the next ten years.
And in the course of our hearings we heard multiple times from the treaty’s negotiators—in both open and closed session.
In all, the Foreign Relations Committee conducted 12 open and classified hearings, featuring more than 20 witnesses. The Armed Services and Intelligence Committees held more than 8 hearings and classified briefings of their own. We didn’t stack the deck with Democrats. In fact, most of the former officials who testified were Republicans. Even the executive branch witnesses included several holdovers from the last administration: Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, General Chilton, and Lieutenant General O'Reilly were all originally appointed to their posts by President Bush. Overwhelmingly, these witnesses supported timely ratification of the New START Treaty—and, as I said, some of the strongest endorsements came from America’s military leaders. The combined wisdom of our current and former military and civilian leaders, accumulated over decades in service not to political parties but to our nation’s security, was clear: This treaty should be ratified.
Over the summer, the Committee also reviewed a number of important documents, including:
- A National Intelligence Estimate assessing U.S. capability to monitor compliance with the terms of the New START Treaty;
- A State Department report assessing international compliance with arms control agreements, including Russia’s compliance with the original START Treaty;
- The State Department’s analysis of the New START Treaty’s verifiability;
- And a classified summary of discussions during the treaty negotiations on the issue of missile defense.
By the end of July, the Foreign Relations Committee had compiled an extensive record. We could have reported the treaty out of Committee then—we had the votes. But some Republican senators asked for more time to review the treaty and the testimony and documents that we had gathered. So in August, I postponed a Committee vote for six weeks until after the August recess to give members more time to review the record—as Republicans had specifically requested. This treaty is too important to get caught up in partisan politics, and I wanted our Republican colleagues to have their concerns answered. We dealt with them in good faith then and we expect them to reciprocate.
Over the next six weeks, I encouraged senators to contact Senator Lugar and me with their comments on a draft resolution of ratification that I circulated to get discussion started. And in discussions with Senators Lugar, Corker, and Isakson, I made clear that we welcomed and needed their input.
At the same time, the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees were wrapping up their work on the treaty. Senators Levin and McCain each wrote to the Foreign Relations Committee with their views on the treaty, as did Senators Feinstein and Bond.
We also received the answers to several outstanding questions that senators had posed to the administration. In all, over the past seven months, senators formally submitted some 900 questions to the Obama administration—and they have received thorough responses to each one.
By mid-September, our bipartisan work produced a resolution of ratification that we should all be able to support. Our review process was not designed to cheerlead for the treaty. It was designed to probe every aspect of the treaty and come up with a resolution that provided the Senate’s input and protected the Senate’s prerogatives. That’s what we have done.
At 28 pages—and including 13 conditions, 3 understandings, and 10 declarations—it addresses every serious topic we have discussed over these months. If a senator is worried about the treaty and missile defense, condition (5), understanding (1), and declarations (1) and (2) address that issue. If you are worried about modernizing our nuclear weapons complex and strategic delivery vehicles, condition (9) and declaration (13) get at those concerns. Conventional prompt global strike capabilities? See conditions (6) and (7), understanding (3), and declaration (3). Tactical nuclear weapons? It’s in there. Verifying Russian compliance? It’s in there. Even the concern raised about rail-mobile missiles has been fully addressed.
In short, the resolution is the product of careful bipartisan collaboration intended to address each of the concerns that has been raised. That does not mean that our resolution is perfect. In the past weeks, I have been reaching out to colleagues to get additional ideas and I will be happy to consider any germane amendments that my colleagues might propose.
The only way to do that, though, is by having a floor debate on this treaty. With the Senate now back in session, there are 33 days before the end of the year. That is plenty of time for debate. Just look at the record: the original START agreement was a far more dramatic treaty than New START, both because its cuts were far sharper and because the Soviet Union had just collapsed, leaving tremendous uncertainty in its wake. And yet the full Senate needed only 5 days of floor time before it approved that treaty by a vote of 93 to 6. The START II Treaty took only 2 days on the floor before we approved it 87 to 4.
Forget the precedent, though: when it comes to protecting our national security, the American people always expect us to make the time. And that’s exactly what we’re prepared to do. We will work around the clock. If time is the only concern, then we have no concerns. Given the time it took to consider past treaties, it’s clear that we can do this. We’re not new to this business—we can get this treaty done.
I know, though, that some senators still worry about the administration’s plans to modernize our nuclear weapons complex. So it is worth taking a minute to review all the work that has been done in this regard. Initially, the Obama administration proposed spending $80 billion over the next 10 years—that’s a 15 percent increase over the baseline budget, even after accounting for inflation. And it’s much, much more than was spent during the Bush administration. Still, some senators had concerns, so on September 15 the Vice President assured our Committee that the ten-year plan would be updated and that a revised FY 2012 budget figure would be provided this fall.
In the meantime, because I believe that our nuclear weapons complex has to be adequately funded, I worked to include an anomaly in the continuing resolution we passed in October. That provided an additional $100 million for the past two months, and it ensured that we would have time to get updated figures from the administration.
The administration has now provided those figures, asking for an additional $5 billion over the next 10 years. And I’d like to remind my colleagues that, according to the resolution of ratification, if any of this funding does not materialize in the coming years, the president will be required to report to Congress as to how he will address the shortfall. But if the Senate does not now approve ratification of the New START Treaty, it will become increasingly difficult to secure that additional funding in the appropriations process. That’s one reason why we need to get this done now.
But ultimately we need to approve this treaty because it is critical to U.S. security. It is better to have fewer nuclear weapons aimed at the United States, to have the right to inspect Russian facilities, and to have Moscow as an ally in the fight against Iranian proliferation. Our military thinks it is better to have these things. If my colleagues disagree, let them make that case to the full Senate—and to the American people.
After all, if the American people said anything in this election year, it is that Congress needs to get down to business. They asked Congress to get rid of the politics. They asked us to protect American interests.
It is this Congress that has done the work on this treaty. It is we senators here and now, who have the constitutional responsibility to deal with this treaty. It is this Congress that has gone to these hearings, conducted this analysis, read these documents. We are the senators who have the responsibility to vote. Let’s get to work.
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