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Menendez Opening Remarks at Hearing on U.S.-Russia Arms Control Efforts

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following statement at today’s committee hearing on the status of U.S.-Russia Arms Control efforts.

“Thank you Mr. Chairman for convening today’s hearing as part of a series of hearings on the U.S. policy towards the Russian Federation. Arms control efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear war and limit Russia’s nuclear forces are vital for maintaining and strengthening U.S. national security.

Despite a number of inquiries to the Secretary and others, more than two months after President Trump’s Helsinki meetings with President Putin, we remain largely in the dark as to what the two leaders discussed or agreed to during their two-hour closed meeting.  We do know that Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov told reporters that “important verbal agreements” were reached at the Helsinki summit on arms control issues, including preservation of the New START and INF Treaty. 

We continue to find ourselves in an incredible situation: the American people, the elected officials in this body, and members of the President’s own administration hear more from Russian officials about alleged agreements that the President is making about critical national security issues. What constitutes an ‘important verbal agreement’? What constitutes an ‘important verbal agreement’? Has the President reached key decisions with Russia on key arms control treaties?  If so, why hasn’t Congress been informed about this decision?

Along with many others in this body, I have for many years strongly supported policies to confront Russia for its multiple and ongoing transgressions including military aggression, malign influence and repressive policies.

I believe that we must develop comprehensive strategies to confront our adversaries that ultimately prioritize the safety and security of the United States and its citizens. This requires being clear-eyed about the threats we face, and all the tools our adversary can wield against us. Constraining the proliferation of nuclear weapons must be a core component of our strategy.   Given the reality of Russia’s current nuclear capacity, we must collectively use every diplomatic tool in our arsenal – economic, political, and military – to achieve our goals. The stakes could not be higher.    

We have historically negotiated and entered into agreements with our adversaries recognizing that we are dealing with hostile powers that cannot be trusted. We build in metrics that account for a probability of efforts to deceive and dodge. In high stakes agreements, provisions outlining U.S. intelligence verification and compliance are essential.  In the universe of arms control agreements with Russia we conduct on-site inspections of military bases and facilities. We require data exchanges in order track the status and makeup of their nuclear forces.

Today we know Russia is violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty.

If we have evidence that a country is violating international commitments, we must be unequivocal in working through the construction of the agreement to bring them back into compliance. We must never lose sight of our objectives with any arms control agreement: to reduce the risk of catastrophic war and to constrain our adversaries’ ability to threaten us and our allies.

And in assessing the value of an arms control agreement, we must consider whether our participation in the agreement further advances our goals. Would withdrawing or walking away from an agreement strengthen our hand or ultimately leave us without a seat at the table - without insight into our adversaries stockpile - safer or less secure?

Finally, I want to remind our Members of some of the history surrounding the Senate’s ratifications of the New START treaty.   

When the Senate deliberated New START in 2010, some of my colleague on the other side of the aisle, including our esteemed Chairman, made it clear that they were willing to vote for the treaty but only as part of a deal that modernized our nuclear forces and infrastructure.  

Neither an unconstrained nuclear arms race nor blind faith in arms control agreements serve U.S national security interests.  American security is best served with a strong, credible deterrent that operates within a legally binding, stable, and constrained arms control environment.  

I hope the Trump Administration fully appreciates this vital linkage.  Diminishing, for example, the value of arms control, and placing all faith in one-dimensional conceptions of increasing nuclear strength to bring the Russians and the Chinese to heel, will result in a far more dangerous strategic environment.

I also want to remind the administration that bipartisan support for nuclear modernization is tied to maintaining an arms control process that controls and seeks to reduce Russian nuclear forces, which inevitably means promoting military- and fiscally-responsible policies on ourselves.   We are not interested in writing blank checks for a nuclear arms race with Russia.  And we don’t want step off our current path of stability to wander again down an uncertain road filled with potentially dire consequences.

And the final note I’d make, Mr. Chairman - and I guess we have enough people now to go ahead and vote - is that I hope that as part of our oversight (which I applaud you for having conducted with these hearings) that we will also get an opportunity to mark up DASKA and similar related bills.

I think it is important for the Congress to speak about the Russia’s violations of the international order, and certainly the undermining of our election. And since we have very often - this committee - taken up sanctions as part of our overall foreign policy tool, which is one of the critical tools of peaceful diplomacy, I would urge the Chairman to make sure that we also keep jurisdictional opportunities as it relates to that. And that we can have a markup that sends a hopefully united message to the Russians that we will not tolerate their actions both at home and abroad.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the witnesses.”