December 22, 2010

New START Treaty Passes 71-26

Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at the close of Senate debate on the New START Treaty:

Mr. President, as the Senate approaches a point of decision on the New START Treaty, I would like to offer a few concluding thoughts.

My attitudes towards the enterprise of arms control have been affected by the time I have spent during the last two decades visiting remote areas of Russia in an effort to bolster Nunn-Lugar dismantlement operations.  When one sees Russian SS-18 ballistic missiles being cut up at Surovatikha, or when one witnesses the dismantlement of a Typhoon ballistic missile submarine at the SevMash facility on the approaches to the Barents Sea, one gets a clear picture of the enormity of the problem that confronted us during the Cold War.

With all the destructive power that was created during that era amidst intense suspicion and enmity between the United States and the former Soviet Union, we were extraordinarily fortunate to have avoided a mishap that could have destroyed American civilization.  During the last two decades, we have circumscribed the nuclear problem, but we have not eliminated it.  Our cities remain vulnerable to accident, miscalculation, and proliferation stemming from the Russian nuclear arsenal.  And we still must pay very close attention to the disposition of Russian nuclear forces.

Visiting dismantlement operations in Russia also underscores that arms control is a technically challenging endeavor.  In these debates we generally focus on the balance of nuclear forces, deterrence theories, diplomatic maneuvers, and other aspects of high statecraft.   But arms control is also a “nuts and bolts” enterprise involving thousands of American and Russian technicians, officials, and military personnel.  Verification and dismantlement activities require tremendous cooperation on mundane engineering challenges, equipment and supply logistics, and legal frameworks that allow these activities to proceed.

Ironically the exacting nature of arms verification and elimination may be a blessing.  The challenges of this work and the amount of information that both sides are required to exchange have improved transparency and forced our countries to build productive partnerships over time.

The Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on June 24 in which Defense Department officials in charge of verification and dismantlement activities in the former Soviet Union testified.  These officials oversee dismantlement work in Russia that occurs every day.  Their agencies oversaw verification under START I before the treaty expired on December 5, 2009. They would oversee the verification work required under the New START Treaty.

They described in detail how verification operations are conducted and gave Senators a picture of how the United States and Russia cooperate on technically challenging non-proliferation goals.  Only five members of the Committee attended that hearing.  I wish that every Senator could have attended, because the presentation underscored how much the START process links our two Defense establishments and how critical the START framework is to non-proliferation activities.

Mr. President, there is a maxim that has been popularized in American cinema, variants of which have sometimes been attributed to early political philosophers such as Sun Tsu or Machiavelli.  It is “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”  I am not suggesting that Russia is an enemy.   Our relationship with that country is far more complex.  It is a relationship that is both wary and hopeful.  We admire the Russian people and their cultural and scientific achievements, while lamenting continuing restrictions on their civil and political liberties.  We recognize the potential for U.S.-Russian cooperation based on deep commonalities in our history and geography, even as we are frustrated that Cold War sensibilities are difficult to dislodge.

Although we can and must make situational judgments to engage Russia, such engagement is no guarantee that we will experience a convergence of perceived interests or the elimination of friction.

But one does not have to abandon one’s skepticism of the Russian government or dismiss contentious foreign policy disagreements with Moscow to invest in the practical enterprise of nuclear verification and transparency.  In fact, it is precisely the friction in our broader relationship that makes this treaty so important.

It would be an incredible strategic blunder to sever our START relationship with Russia when that country still possesses thousands of nuclear weapons.  We would be distancing ourselves from a historic rival in the area where our national security is most affected and where cooperation already has delivered successes.  When it comes to our nuclear arsenals we want to keep Russia close.  There are enough centripetal forces at work without abandoning a START process that has prevented surprises and miscalculations for 15 years.

The New START agreement came about because the United States and Russia, despite differences on many geopolitical issues, do have coincident interests on specific matters of nuclear security.  We share an interest in limiting competition on expensive weapons systems that do little to enhance the productivity of our respective societies.  We share an interest in achieving predictability with regard to each other’s nuclear forces, so we are not left guessing about potential vulnerabilities.   We share an interest in cooperating broadly on keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists.  And we share an interest in maintaining lines of communication between our political and military establishments that are based on the original START agreement.

Over the last seven months the Senate has performed due diligence on the New START treaty.  Most importantly, we have gathered and probed military opinion about what the treaty would mean for our national defense.  We have heard from the top military leadership, as well as the commanders who oversee our nuclear weapons and our missile defense.  We have heard from former Secretaries of Defense and STRATCOM commanders who have confirmed the judgment of current military leaders.  Their answers have demonstrated a carefully-reasoned military consensus in favor of ratifying the treaty.   Rejection of such a consensus on a treaty that affects fundamental questions of nuclear deterrence would be an extraordinary action for the Senate to take.  

Moreover, the treaty review process has produced a much stronger American political consensus in favor of modernization of our nuclear forces and implementation of our missile defense plans.  This includes explicit commitments by the President and Congressional appropriators.  In the absence of the New START Treaty, I believe this consensus would be more difficult to maintain.  We have the chance today not only to approve the New START Treaty, but also to solidify our domestic determination to achieve these national security goals. 

I began the Senate debate on this treaty last week by citing a long list of the national security threats that currently occupy our nation and our military.   Our troops are heavily engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We are fighting a global terrorist threat.  And we are seeking to resolve the dangerous circumstances surrounding nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea.  We are attempting to address these and many other national security questions at a time of growing resource constraints reflected in a $14 trillion debt.

In this context the U.S. Senate has a chance today to constrain expensive arms competition with Russia.   We have chance to guarantee transparency and confidence-building procedures that contribute to our fundamental national security.  We have a chance to frustrate rogue nations, who would prefer as much distance as possible between the United States and Russia on nuclear questions.  And we have a chance to strike a blow against nuclear proliferation that deeply threatens American citizens and our interests in the world.

I am hopeful that the Senate will embrace this opportunity to bolster U.S. national security by voting to approve the New START Treaty.

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Press Contact

Mark Helmke • 202-224-5918 • mark_helmke@lugar.senate.gov