December 16, 2010

Lugar Responds to Proposed Missile Defense Amendment

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, the Ranking Republican of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote the following letter to other Senators today regarding attempts to amend the preamble of the START Treaty:

Dear Colleague:

In anticipation of our consideration of the New START Treaty, some have advocated that the preamble to the Treaty be amended to address concerns regarding missile defense.  I believe that this course is unnecessary and will not ultimately serve U.S. interests.

As you are aware, the preamble includes a clause that states:  “Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.”  Some have argued that it is necessary to delete this clause from the treaty text to prevent Russia from threatening to withdraw from the Treaty if we expand missile defense. 

But Russia’s ability to withdraw from the New START Treaty over concerns about U.S. missile defense plans does not depend on language in the treaty’s preamble.  Russia’s ability to withdraw from the New START Treaty is governed by Article XIV of the Treaty, which  reads, in pertinent part, that:  “Each party shall, in exercising its national sovereignty, have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events related to the subject matter of this Treaty have jeopardized its supreme national interests.”  Removing language from the treaty’s preamble will not constrain Russia’s ability to decide for itself whether to withdraw from the treaty pursuant to Article XIV.

Some might argue that the Senate should seek to amend Article XIV to assert that Russian objections to U.S. missile defense are not a basis for withdrawing from the treaty.  But such a course would not be in our interest because it would likely require us to agree to corresponding constraints on our right to decide for ourselves under what circumstances we may withdraw from the treaty.

Instead, the best course for the United States is to make clear that we will pursue our missile defense plans whether or not Russia decides now or in the future not to be a party to the New START treaty, and that Russian threats to withdraw from the treaty will accordingly have no impact on our missile defense plans.  Just as we were not deterred from withdrawing from the ABM Treaty by Russian threats that such a withdrawal might prompt them to pull out of START I, Russian threats with regard to New START will not deter us from pursuing our missile defense plans.

The Resolution of Ratification to the New START Treaty re-commits the United States to this course.  It contains an understanding, to be included in the instrument of ratification, that the New START Treaty imposes no limitations on the deployment of U.S. missile defenses other than the requirement to refrain from converting offensive missile launchers.  It also states that Russia’s April 2010 unilateral statement on missile defense does not impose any legal obligation on the United States and that any further limitations would require Treaty amendment subject to the Senate’s advice and consent.  Consistent with the Missile Defense Act of 1999, it also declares that it is U.S. policy to deploy an effective national missile defense system as soon as technologically possible and that it is the paramount obligation of the United States to defend its people, armed forces, and allies against nuclear attack to the best of its ability.

The Resolution also states that the Senate expects the executive branch to provide regular briefings on missile defense issues related to the treaty and on U.S.-Russia missile defense dialogue and cooperation.  The Resolution calls for briefings before and after each meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Commission. The Executive Branch has committed to holding these briefings.

This does not mean that Russia will not complain regarding U.S. missile defense deployment, as it has complained about U.S. missile defense plans for the past four decades.  But under the New START Treaty, we will continue to control our own missile defense destiny, not Russia.


Richard G. Lugar

Ranking Member


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