New START and Dr. Rice’s “Caveats”

By Rob Golan-Vilella

This morning, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined the growing chorus of voices calling for the New START treaty to be ratified. Dr. Rice is the sixth Republican former Secretary of State to support the treaty, coming on the heels of last week’s endorsement from Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell in The Washington Post.

Dr. Rice correctly notes in arguing for the treaty that:

The treaty is modest, reducing offensive nuclear weapons to 1,550 on each side—more than enough for deterrence. While the treaty puts limits on launchers, U.S. military commanders have testified that we will be able to maintain a triad of bombers, submarine-based delivery vehicles and land-based delivery vehicles. Moreover, the treaty helpfully reinstates on-site verification of Russian nuclear forces, which lapsed with the expiration of the original Start treaty last year. Meaningful verification was a significant achievement of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and its reinstatement is crucial.

In addition, Dr. Rice lists two “caveats” which, she argues, the Senate must address before providing its advice and consent for the treaty. Fortunately, the Obama administration and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have already substantially addressed both.

First, Dr. Rice expresses concern about funding for the nuclear weapons complex:

[S]maller forces make the modernization of our nuclear infrastructure even more urgent. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona has led a valiant effort in this regard. Thanks to his efforts, roughly $84 billion is being allocated to the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons complex. Ratifying the treaty will help cement these commitments, and Congress should fully fund the president’s program.

The fact is that the Obama administration has fully demonstrated its commitment to funding the nuclear weapons complex. The White House has proposed spending over $85 billion on NNSA weapons activities over the next decade. Moreover, the SFRC resolution of ratification clarifies that the United States is committed to providing the resources necessary to maintain a robust and effective arsenal, “at a minimum at the levels set forth in the President’s 10-year plan.” The resolution explicitly states that “if at any time more resources are required than estimated in the President’s 10-year plan,” the President shall submit a report to Congress detailing how he plans to remedy the resource shortfall and the proposed level of funding required.

Second, Dr. Rice worries about potential limits on U.S. missile defenses:

[T]he Senate must make absolutely clear that in ratifying this treaty, the U.S. is not re-establishing the Cold War link between offensive forces and missile defenses. New Start’s preamble is worrying in this regard, as it recognizes the “interrelationship” of the two. Administration officials have testified that there is no link, and that the treaty will not limit U.S. missile defenses. But Congress should ensure that future Defense Department budgets reflect this.

Moscow contends that only current U.S. missile-defense plans are acceptable under the treaty. But the U.S. must remain fully free to explore and then deploy the best defenses—not just those imagined today. That includes pursuing both potential qualitative breakthroughs and quantitative increases.

These worries are misplaced for several reasons:

  • Dr. Rice’s first concern about New START’s preamble is overblown. Missile defenses are meant to shoot down offensive weapons. To say that there is an “interrelationship” between the two is akin to acknowledging that there is a relationship between swords and shields. In addition, preambles of treaties are by definition nonbinding and do not impose any limits on the United States.
  • On the point about the potential for future limitations, the SFRC resolution of ratification is crystal clear. It states that the treaty “does not impose any limitations on the deployment of missile defenses” other than the Article V, paragraph 3 restriction on converting launchers for missile defense interceptors into launchers for ICBMs and vice versa. Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, has already testified that the United States had absolutely no plans to do this in any case.
  • Beyond this ban, the SFRC resolution of ratification clarifies that any further limitations “would require an amendment to the New START Treaty which may enter into force for the United States only with the advice and consent of the Senate.” It also makes clear that unilateral Russian statements do not impose any legal obligations on the United States.

In short, Dr. Rice brings up significant issues, but they have already been resolved. Senate Republicans should therefore conclude, as she does, that New START “deserves bipartisan support,” and provide their advice and consent for the treaty’s ratification.

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