As Congress nears the end of its 111th session, ratifying a new nuclear arms reduction and monitoring treaty must be a priority.
Last week, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins said they would support the treaty. This should encourage fellow Republicans who shared the senators’ concerns to also vote for the needed agreement.
A follow to the historic Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1991, New START is necessary to continue this important work. The 1991 treaty, which was proposed by President Ronald Reagan, reduced both American and Soviet nuclear arms stockpiles by 80 percent.
The 1991 agreement expired last December. It is important to remember that as long as the Senate lets the New START treaty languish, there is no formal mechanism to keep tabs on Russia’s nuclear activity, although both the U.S. and Russia have pledged to continue to honor the treaty.
The new treaty further reduces nuclear weapons stockpiles in the U.S. and Russia and continues inspections to ensure compliance. The two countries own 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
The treaty is supported by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and many other top military and diplomatic leaders.
Sen. Snowe had raised concerns about the treaty’s language on verification, its impact on the planned U.S. missile defense system and America’s ability to update its nuclear weapons systems.
“I am confident that New START will provide predictability in our relationship with Russia and thus enhance global stability, and most importantly, our national security,” Sen. Snowe said Friday in announcing that her concerns had been addressed and that she would support the treaty as long as there was time for debate and amendments were allowed.
Sen. Collins shared these concerns and also wanted assurances that the fact that Russia has more tactical nuclear weapons, which are shorter range but more vulnerable to theft, than the United States would be addressed. She received such assurances from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and De-fense Secretary Robert Gates last week.
“The New START represents a continued effort to achieve mutual and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons,” Sen. Collins said Friday. “I support the president’s commitment to reduce not only the number of strategic nuclear weapons through the New START treaty, but also to reduce, in the future, those weapons that are most vulnerable to theft and misuse — and those are tactical nuclear weapons.”
Along with Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, long a supporter of the treaty, Sens. Snowe and Collins are the only Republicans to publicly commit to supporting New START.
Their leadership should encourage other Republicans to support the treaty.