Congress faces several important pieces of legislation during the brief session before a new crop of lawmakers is sworn in next year. One priority must be Senate ratification of a new nuclear arms reduction treaty.
Currently, there is no treaty covering the arms stockpiles in Russia and the United States. Both countries have informally agreed to abide by the historic Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed by the U.S. and Russia in 1991. But, as long as the Senate lets its successor, called New START, languish, there is no formal mechanism to keep tabs on Russia’s nuclear activity.
That’s why scores of U.S. military leaders have called upon the Senate to ratify the treaty.
“We believe the threat of nuclear terrorism remains urgent, fueled by the spread of nuclear weapons, materials and technology around the world,” President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn wrote in a July letter to Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Sen. Lugar was the only Republican on the committee to support the treaty. The committee has yet to vote on the treaty.
The treaty also is supported by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and many other top military and diplomatic leaders.
The 1991 treaty, which was proposed by President Ronald Reagan, reduced both American and Soviet nuclear arms stockpiles by 80 percent.
The new treaty reduces nuclear weapons stockpiles in the U.S. and Russia by another third and continues inspections to ensure compliance.
The U.S. and Russia “own 95 percent of all nuclear weapons. If we are unable between the two of us to make any progress in stability, what would this do to our urging others not to proliferate, not to go to nuclear weapons because they’re a danger to the world?” President George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft asked during a Brookings Institution conference this summer.
In other words, if the world’s two largest nuclear powers can’t agree on weapons limits, what credibility do they have when they ask other countries to limit, or forgo, such weapons?
Further, limiting nuclear weapons, especially in Russia, which is contending with breakaway republics and homegrown terrorist groups, is important for keeping these arms out of the hands of terrorists.
The treaty, which needs 67 votes for ratification by the Senate, has gotten tangled up in partisan politics, posturing and pork-barrel negotiations. There is also a group of senators who are opposing the bill in an attempt to get more money for nuclear weapons labs in their states.
Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are crucial to passage of the treaty. Both senators have raised concerns about the treaty’s effect on missile defense and the building of more modern weapons.
These questions should again be answered, along with others sure to be raised if the treaty is debated during the lame-duck session, as it should be.
Further delaying the treaty is bad for the United States and the world. The Senate should ratify it.