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Chairman Kerry’s Closing Floor Statement On New START

Washington, D.C. – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) today delivered closing remarks regarding the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) on the Senate floor. 

The full text of Chairman Kerry’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, as we end our debate on the New START Treaty, I believe we can say the Senate has done its duty, and done it with diligence, serious purpose, and honor. And I am confident that our nation’s security—and that of the world—will be enhanced by ratifying this treaty.

We began providing our advice on this treaty a year and a half ago, when negotiations between the United States and Russia first began. Over the subsequent months we listened and questioned and pushed as the administration’s negotiators shaped this agreement. And once it was submitted for our review in May, we scrutinized it carefully through hearings and briefings and hundreds of questions. Three different committees reviewed this treaty, including of course the Foreign Relations Committee, which ultimately drafted the resolution of advice and consent that we have been considering. That resolution was the product of a bipartisan effort, and I am pleased to say that the resolution we are voting on now is the product of further bipartisanship, with amendments from our Republican colleagues that we accepted last night and this morning.

When we began this debate eight days ago, I quoted Chris Dodd’s farewell address, in which he reminded us that the Founding Fathers had designed the Senate with these moments in mind. I think over the past week we have lived up to our moment. Senators have had the opportunity to speak and debate. The fact is, we have considered this treaty—a less complicated or far-reaching treaty than START I—for longer than we considered START I and START II combined. But this time gave us the opportunity to explore the nuclear challenge in great depth in a Senate that has not considered arms control for some time. We have discussed the requirements of nuclear deterrence, the need for missile defenses, the importance of our nuclear weapons complex, the need to negotiate on tactical nuclear weapons, and the centrality of verification to arms control.

I know that we have not always agreed on all of these issues, but we have considered them with the gravity and the seriousness that the subject requires. In the end, I hope that most of us have come to agree that we should provide our consent to this critical treaty.

New START is a commonsense agreement to control the world’s most dangerous weapons and to enhance stability between the two countries that possess some 90 percent of them. For the past 40 years, the United States has used arms control with Russia to increase the transparency and predictability of both our nuclear arsenals. And it’s worked. That process has built increased trust between our two countries, reduced the chances of accident, and stabilized our relationship during times of crisis. That is why we negotiated START I, START II, and the Moscow Treaty. And that is why we negotiated the New START Treaty, building on that legacy.

But New START is not simply an agreement to address the lingering dangers of the old nuclear age. It is an agreement that will give us a crucial tool to combat the threats of this new nuclear age. New START will strengthen our ability to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to states like Iran. In May, at the conference reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United States was able to isolate Iran and prevent it from diverting attention from its own troubling behavior. And in just the seven months since President Obama signed this agreement, 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.

This treaty will also help us keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The original START agreement was the foundation of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program—the single most successful nonproliferation effort of the last 20 years, created through the efforts of our distinguished and dedicated colleague Senator Lugar. It is impossible to overstate just how critical Nunn-Lugar efforts have been. And it is difficult to overstate the impact of even a small improvement in our nuclear security.

But I am convinced this treaty is more than a small improvement. That is why, over the past seven months, the overwhelming majority of America’s national security establishment, past and present, has stepped forward to support this treaty: every living former secretary of state; five former secretaries of defense; seven former commanders of Strategic Command; the chair and vice chair of the 9/11 Commission; President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton; and of course the entirety of our uniformed military—from the director of the Missile Defense Agency to the commander of STRATCOM to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They all said that it will make us safer, that we can verify Russia’s compliance, and that it will enhance U.S. leadership on nonproliferation. Indeed, this treaty is significant enough that in the last few days alone, we have heard directly from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the President of the United States. 

Admiral Mullen summed up our interests in this treaty in a compelling way. He said:

I continue to believe that ratification of the New START Treaty is vital to U.S. national security. Through the trust it engenders, the cuts it requires, and the flexibility it preserves, this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we in the military have been charged to do: protect and defend the citizens of the United States. I am as confident in its success as I am in its safeguards. The sooner it is ratified, the better.

I think that’s exactly right—and it’s important to keep our fundamental charge to protect America foremost in our minds.

But I think there is something more to think about now. In the back and forth of debates like this, as we dispute details and draw dividing lines, it is easy to lose sight of the magnitude of the decision we are making.

Because sometimes, when we repeat and repeat and repeat certain words and phrases they become routine and ritual—and their true meaning fades away. When we argue about the difference between 700 delivery vehicles and 720, we may forget that in the final analysis, regardless of where we stand on the START treaty, this is one of those rare times in the United States Senate, one of the only times in all our service here, when we have it in our power to safeguard or endanger human life on this planet. More than any other, this issue should transcend politics. More than any other, this issue should summon our best instincts and our highest sense of responsibility. More than at almost any other time, the people of the world are watching us because they rely on our leadership and because this issue involves not simply our lives and the lives of our children—but their lives and the lives of their children as well.

So it is altogether fitting that we have debated and now we decide not in a campaign season, but in a season that celebrates and summons us to the ideal of peace on Earth. Yes, we’ve contended about schedules. Yes, the constant chatter on cable speculates about whether we’d approve the treaty in time to get out of here for Christmas. But the question is not whether we get out of here for a holiday; the question is whether we move the world a little more out of the dark shadow of nuclear nightmare. For whatever our faith, the right place for us at this time of year, no matter how long it may take, is here in the United States Senate—where we now have a unique capacity to give a priceless gift not just to our friends and family, but to our fellow men and women everywhere. When Robert Oppenheimer left Los Alamos after the atomic bomb was dropped, he said, “The peoples of this world must unite or they will perish. This war, that has ravaged so much of the earth, has written these words. The atomic bomb has spelled them out for all men to understand…. By our works we are committed, committed to a world united, before this common peril, in law and in humanity.” Mr. President: This is what brings up to this moment.

Last night, a friend called my attention to the meditation of Pope John Paul II when he visited Hiroshima. He said that from the memory of those awesome mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki we must draw the “conviction that man who wages war can also successfully make peace.” Mr. President, this month in homes across this land, Americans are honoring moments in the history of faith that enshrine the values that guide us all regardless of faith. We in the Senate, only one hundred of us in a world of billions, should be humbled and proud that in this month we have the privilege of reducing the risks of war and advancing the cause of peace. 

So think of what is at stake here and of the role we now have to play, not only in the governing of our country but literally in the life of the world. Here more than ever our power to advise and consent is more than some arcane procedural matter. The Framers of the Constitution created the Senate with a vision of statesmanship—that here narrow interests would yield to the national interest—that petty quarrels would be set aside in pursuit of great and common endeavor. The best of our history has proven the wisdom of that vision. There was that defining moment when Senator Daniel Webster stood at his desk in this chamber to address the fundamental moral issue of slavery. The words with which he started were stark and simple – and they should guide us today and every day. He said: “I speak not as a Massachusetts man, nor a northern man, but as an American.” This is the very definition of what it means to be a United States Senator. To speak not for one state but for one America. To remember that the whole world is watching. So it is now—and so it has been across the decades during which so many Presidents and Senators of both parties, citizens in every part of the country, have struggled and at critical turning points succeeded in pushing back the dark frontier of nuclear conflict. The efforts have not always been perfect; nothing in life or policy ever is. But as we end this debate now, let us take our own step forward for America and for the world. As stewards of enormous destructive power, we too can become the stewards of peace.

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