New START ratification important for our security

Posted Nov. 10, 2010, at 5:51 p.m.

“I recommend ratification of this treaty … In short, this committee’s decision will affect the prospects for peace for a decade or more. It is, by definition, not a bipartisan, but a nonpartisan, challenge.” Those words, said by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year, send a very strong message. Advocating for this treaty is beyond politics; it is about wise international relations. He was talking about New START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that will replace the first START agreement, which went into effect in the first Bush administration and expired nearly a year ago.

Kissinger gave wise reasoning to support his nonpartisan positioning. He said: “In deciding on ratification, the concerns need to be measured against the consequences of nonratification, particularly interrupting a [bilateral arms control] process that has been going on for decades.”

Nuclear disarmament is key to making the whole world safer from large-scale nuclear aggression by encouraging reduction of nuclear weapon stockpiles in nations like Pakistan, India, China and North Korea. As long as there is national instability somewhere in the world, it is clear nuclear weapons must be eventually eliminated. The U.S. and Russia are leading arms reduction on the world stage with New START.

New START is a legally binding, verifiable agreement between the U.S and Russia, reducing both sides’ deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 and strategic delivery systems to 800 deployed and non-deployed (such as submarines in overhaul). The warhead limit is 30 percent lower than the 2,200 limit of the 2003 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

The New START agreement is a critical and essential next step in strengthening U.S. nuclear security.

New START establishes a state-of-the-art verification process that allows us to track Russia’s nuclear activities and verify the reductions they’ve committed to. Improving U.S. intelligence on Russia’s nuclear capability and securing and reducing its nuclear stockpile significantly enhances American national security. Anyone who supports greater stability, transparency and predictability of the world’s other major nuclear power should support of this treaty.

Likewise, the treaty has been put under the microscope of military and political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world and has met with their approval.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says, “The new START treaty has the unanimous support of America’s military leadership.” In fact, the entire U.S. military establishment supports New START: Adm. Michael Mullen, STRATCOM Commander Gen. Kevin Chilton and Missile Defense Agency head Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly all testified in favor of the treaty. Additionally, seven former STRATCOM commanders released a letter this summer urging quick Senate ratification, and numerous retired flag officers, including Lt. Gen. Dirk Jameson, Brig. Gen. John Adams and Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, have endorsed New START for its national security benefits.

Former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger says of New START, “I think that it is obligatory for the United States to ratify. And any treaty is going to have limitations, questionable areas. There are some in this treaty. We need to watch them for the future, but that does not mean that the treaty should be rejected.”

Several Senate committees scrutinized New START in over 20 hearings. After extremely thoughtful drafting, a resolution of advise and consent for ratification was approved by a vote of 14-4 by the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Bob Corker of Tennessee followed in the steps of many Republicans who were walking through the years on the bipartisan road for the security of our country.

Nonpartisanship is the key to passage of New START. At least two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators, must approve the resolution for New START. New START needs support from at least eight Republicans, and Maine’s two senators could cast the essential votes.

Moreover, the resolution must come to the floor of the Senate in the lame-duck session starting in mid-November. If it is not approved, many years could pass in which we have no way to verify the extent of Russian nuclear weapons capabilities. It is time for Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to show nonpartisan leadership by supporting New START ratification before the resolution goes to the Senate floor.

In the interest of world security and safety — and our peace of mind — this is a treaty we all can agree on.

Chris Rector, R-Thomaston, represents District 22, which includes most of Knox County, in the Maine Senate.

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