Reading Room

A New START Today: Treaty is a Hopeful First Step, But Will Ratification Be Costly?

President Obama and Russian President Medvedev signed a bilateral treaty today agreeing "on measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms." This treaty, known as New START (short for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) commits both counties to reductions in the numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1550, and delivery vehicles to 700. While this is a modest step in the right direction, it still leaves the two countries with enough nuclear firepower to ensure mutual destruction many times over.

The New START is a milestone in cooperation and commitment between the two countries. It creates an impressive verification regime and sets a foundation for deeper reductions. In fact, both sides are reportedly pursuing discussions for deeper reductions in the near future.

Tri-Valley CAREs applauds the signing of this treaty and is hopeful that further reductions can be agreed upon. "Today is a good day for peace and security advocates," said Scott Yundt, Tri-Valley CAREs Staff Attorney. "New START is aptly named. It can mark a new beginning in both diplomacy and arms control. And, that makes all of us a little safer today than we were yesterday." Yundt continued, "Our concerns are not with the treaty, they are with the current atmosphere in our nation's capital and what that could mean for ratification, which should be swift and simple given the treatys positive effect on global security, but may prove otherwise."

The challenges facing implementation of this treaty could be daunting. It still has to achieve ratification in the Russian legislature and in the US Senate. As the partisan political climate in Washington DC continues unabated, ratification of New START could prove to be extremely difficult.

Last December, 40 Republican Senators and Joe Lieberman, enough to defeat the 2/3rds needed to ratify the treaty, sent a letter to the President demanding large increases in nuclear weapons spending before they would support the New START agreement. Among the list of demands were (1) essentially replacing the whole arsenal with new modified nuclear weapons, and (2) a series of new warhead component production facilities.

Since the Republicans sent their letter, the Obama administration has proposed the largest-ever budget for nuclear weapons. It includes money for expanding nuclear weapons production capacity in the form of new weapons facilities and a study that explores significant modifications to B61 nuclear bombs. There is still no indication that Republican Senators will support the Administration's arms control agenda. Earlier this week, Senators Kyl and McCain released a statement saying that current funding levels for nuclear weapons were still "woefully inadequate." It appears that there is never "enough" funding for nuclear weapons in the eyes of these Republicans.

Providing increased nuclear weapons complex funding carries no assurance of garnering support for New START from Republican Senators. Additionally, this new "investment" in the US nuclear weapons complex signals to the international community the continued US reliance on the nuclear option. This undermines the stated intent of President Obama to show US leadership on achieving a "world without nuclear weapons."

Check back often for updates with more information as ratification hearings approach.

Click here to see the text of New START

Click here to see Protocols for New START.