US Senate debates New START treaty

12/20/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The Obama Administration is attempting to push a US-Russia nuclear arms treaty through the US Senate. The Senate went into a closed-door session after spending hours debating the New START Treaty, and voted down three amendments.

White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said the Obama Administration was confident the Senate would pass the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty today. The document outlines nuclear arms policies as they relate to the US and Russia. President Obama and Russian president Dmitri Medvedev signed it in April. Today GOP Senators railed against it.

"It would seem shortsighted to think that as North Korea, Iran, and others work to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities we could draw our arsenal down to zero."

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said he opposes the treaty for a number of reasons.

"The new START treaty does nothing to significantly reduce the Russian Federation's stockpile of strategic arms, ignores the thousands of tactical weapons in the Russian arsenal, and contains an important concession linking missile defense to strategic arms. We had to rush this treaty, according to the logic of the administration, because it had become an important component in the effort to reset the bilateral relationship with the Russian Federation."

New START is an update on START 1, a 1991 treaty that expired over a year ago. Senate Republicans said the Administration is trying to jam it through during the lame duck session, but Senator John Kerry snapped at the notion that Democrats were being hasty.

"Just because you say something doesn't make it true. Our friends on the other side of the aisle seem to have a habit of repeating things that have been completely refuted by every fact that there is."

Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Senate took less time to pass START 1 nearly two decades ago.

"Today marks our sixth day of debate on the new START treaty. That's a fact. Six days of debate on the new START treaty. Now, they'll come to the floor and say 'well, we had an intervening vote here, an intervening vote there'. Sure Mr. President, that's the way the United States Senate works. That's the way it worked when the passed the first START treaty in five days. We're now spending more time on this treaty than we did on a far more complicated treaty, at a far more complicated time."

Russia has said it will not accept an altered version of the treaty. But critics of the document proposed amendments upping the frequency of inspections, addressing tactical nuclear weapons and raising the limit on deployed delivery systems from the proposed 700 to 720. Republican Senator James Inhofe introduced the amendment that would increase the number of weapons inspections. He said he thinks Russia would try to cheat. The amendment failed on a 64-33 margin.

"If you look at the record of Russia, they don't tell us the truth. They agree to something and then they don't do it. That's why verification probably, it may be the most significant frailty in this new START treaty that needs to be addressed."

John Kyl, a Republican from Arizona, said the said the restrictions outlined in the treaty are unfair, given that the US has a bigger arsenal as well as obligations to other countries.

"They could actually build up to 700, we will have to bring down to 700. It's also not symmetrical because our obligations around the world are much more diverse than are Russia's obligation. Russia will be defending Russia. The United States has an understanding with 31 other countries that our nuclear umbrella is available to them for their nuclear deterrence as well."

But Delaware Senator Kay Hagan said not ratifying the treaty could cause trouble for the US-Russia relations.

"Failure to ratify new START would send a negative signal to Russia that may cause them to not support our objectives with respect to dealing with the Iranian nuclear program."

Sixty-seven Senate votes are needed to ratify a treaty.

Previous WMNF coverage of START

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