Top Republicans are urging their colleagues in the Senate to put off consideration of the Obama administration’s new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia until troublesome issues involving verification and limits imposed on U.S. missile defenses can be aired and debated properly next year.
“If the American people understood what was in this treaty, they would be deeply disturbed,” says Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
DeMint, who voiced that warning at a conference of the Independent Working Group on missile defense, has joined Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Kit Bond of Missouri in arguing for a full debate on the STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) when the Senate reconvenes next year.
In a floor statement last month, Bond said classified documents from the administration that he had reviewed as vice chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee disturbed him so much that he was urging his colleagues to reject the treaty outright.
“I have written a classified letter summarizing my views that is available to all members in Senate security,” he said. “I urge them to read it.”
The classified record made it clear that the treaty cannot be verified Bond said.
In addition, “the Russians will actually be allowed to increase their deployed [nuclear] forces because they currently fall below the treaty’s limits. This raises a crucial question; exactly what does the United States gain from this treaty in exchange for a one-sided reduction in our deployed [nuclear] forces?” Bond said.
Beyond that, the treaty includes limits on U.S. missile defenses that will put America at jeopardy in the future.
“I have not heard any reasonable explanation for why we would give Russia this lever to use against our legitimate and necessary right to defend ourselves against ballistic missile attack,” Bond said.
The Obama administration has turned to a stable of former Reagan and Bush administration officials to spur Republicans to support quick ratification of the Treaty during the lame duck session this month.
Despite the Democrats’59-seat majority in the outgoing Senate, the administration needs Republican support because treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds vote, requiring the approval of 67 senators. That means they need to pick up the votes of eight Republicans.
Former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James Baker III, Colin Powell, and George Shultz have all urged rapid ratification of the Treaty.
But on Monday, another set of former Reagan administration national security officials released a letter at a Capitol Hill news conference warning of the treaty’s deficiencies and urging the Senate to reject it.
Spearheaded by former national security adviser William P. Clark and former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, the signatories warned that the New START is “not consistent with the national security interests of the United States,” because it would give the Russians a strategic advantage while the United States is getting nothing in return.
The new START treaty would encourage placing more warheads on existing missiles, a procedure known as “MIRVing,” essentially a throw-back to the Cold War era when the Soviet Union deployed SS-18 “city-buster” missiles with 10 warheads each.
“Moving away from heavily MIRVed strategic launchers has long been considered a highly stabilizing approach to the deployment of strategic forces,” the letter stated, and has long been “a key U.S. START goal.”
Beyond that, the letter warned that the treaty amounted to “an affirmation of the disarmament agenda for which it is explicitly said to be a building block – namely, Mr. Obama’s stated goal of ‘ridding the world of nuclear weapons.’”
Without a dramatic (and so far unfunded) modernization of U.S. nuclear weapons, the new treaty condemns the United States “to a posture of unilateral nuclear disarmament,” the letter said.
In addition to Clark and Meese, the letter signers include former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton; Ambassador Henry F. Cooper, the former head of strategic missile defense programs; Paula DeSutter, the former head of arms control verification at the State Department; Fritz W. Ermarth, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council; William Graham, President Reagan’s science adviser and the chairman of the congressionally mandated EMP Commission; and a host of other well-known defense and military officials. It was released at a news conference sponsored by Frank Gaffney, former Reagan administration assistant defense secretary who now is president of the Center for Security Policy.
The Obama administration continues to stonewall requests from the Senate to provide classified documents detailing the negotiations that lead to the treaty, standard procedure for international treaties since the days of George Washington.
Senators are concerned that the treaty includes unwritten assurances to the Russians by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other negotiators that the U.S. will scale back its national missile defense programs.
The preamble to the treaty contains a statement committing future U.S. administrations to not develop strategic missile defenses that would “undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.”
This amounts to unilateral limits on U.S. missile defenses, many defense experts argue.
Daniel Goure, a former senior Pentagon official now with the Lexington institute, called it “a remarkable statement.”
“No other agreement on strategic offensive weapons explicitly tied offensive and defensive systems together, suggested the relative importance of one to the other, or made any judgment regarding the effectiveness of extant missile defense systems. Although this statement is in the treaty’s preamble, it is remarkably broad in its treatment of the offensive-defensive relationship,” he wrote recently.
Heritage Foundation missile defense and arms control analyst Baker Spring believes senators might seek to amend the preamble to eliminate any language that places limits on U.S. missile defenses, in the hope the Russians might themselves refuse to ratify the treaty, as it has threatened to do if the missile defense provisions are deleted.
Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee, rejected an amendment that would strip the missile defense language offered by Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, claiming that changes to the treaty language were not allowed under the Senate rules.
“But we reviewed that very carefully and determined that Senator Kerry was wrong,” Spring told Newsmax. “And now, the Senate Parliamentarian agrees with us. So it is still possible to strike that paragraph in the preamble.”
The Senate is likely to debate the treaty next week in a closed session. But regardless of what may happen behind closed doors, Spring and others insist that it needs a proper hearing and floor debate.
“It’s unprecedented for a major treaty of any sort to be debated and voted on during a lame- duck session,” Spring told Newsmax on Wednesday. “This treaty is as controversial as the Panama Canal Treaty, which consumed three to four months of floor debate” before it cleared the Senate in 1979. “It’s outrageous” to push it through in just one or two weeks.
Nevertheless, that appears to be what the Obama White House is hoping to do, and Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid has indicated he is willing to pull all sorts of procedural tricks to make it happen.
“Senator Reid may be so outrageous that he drives Republicans who are sitting on the fence to oppose ratification on procedure alone,” Spring said.
But if he doesn’t, Spring isn’t sanguine about the prospects of defeating the treaty with the current Senate. “If the vote were held today purely on the substance of the treaty, it would probably pass.”
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