The New START is still stuck in the Senate, despite support from U.S. military leaders and all 27 NATO allies. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is a continuation of START signed between the United States and Russia that expired on Dec. 5, 2009.
Signed just after the end of the Cold War on July 31, 1991, the original START allowed both countries to inspect the other’s nuclear facilities. It also created a limit of 1,600 Strategic Nuclear Delivery Vehicles (SNDVs) for the United States and Russia, with a maximum of 6,000 nuclear warheads on the SNDVs; as well as limits on other delivery systems.
While the previous treaty’s main focus was nuclear delivery systems—primarily missiles and bombers—the new treaty includes agreements on deployed nuclear warheads. It includes a 30 percent reduction from a treaty signed in 2002, reducing the strategic nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia to 1,550 warheads each.
Since the treaty expired, neither the United States nor Russia has inspected the other’s nuclear facilities. Resuming inspections and maintaining U.S. credibility when addressing nonproliferation are among the main drivers in passing the New START.
“Look, it is urgent. Again, as I said, it’s been a year, a year since we’ve had inspectors on the ground,” said Acting Deputy Department of State (DOS) Spokesman Mark C. Toner in a Nov. 18 daily press briefing transcription.
“It’s also an issue on which there should be bipartisan support. It’s been so in the past, and we believe it should be so this time. And we believe we can get this passed, and there’s no reason to delay,” Toner said.
The treaty has been stalled primarily by Senate Republicans, and is now hanging in the Senate lame duck session.
“When Majority Leader Harry Reid asked me if I thought the treaty could be considered in the lame duck session, I replied I did not think so given the combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization,” Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl said in a Nov. 16 statement.
If the New START is not passed in the Senate in the lame duck session, it could face a tougher vote in the new Congress, with more Republican senators. “The chances are it would be more difficult, if not impossible, to get that treaty ratified, because it needs 67 votes,” said Anne Penketh, Washington program director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC).
“The administration doesn’t want the whole thing to be reopened when they’ve already gone through 20 briefings, they’ve already answered 900 questions for the record,” Penketh said.
The United States and Russia both have an interest in seeing the treaty passed. Russia has been stepping forward on issues regarding Iran and Afghanistan, and is seeking U.S. support in being admitted into the World Trade Organization (WTO). According to Penketh, a main driver behind the treaty is “improving relations with Russia.”
There is concern that if the Senate vote is delayed too long, however, it will have an adverse effect on U.S.-Russian relations. Vice President Joe Biden expressed his concern, “Trust and confidence in our relationship with Russia would be undermined without Senate approval of the New Start Treaty” in a Nov. 24 op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal.
The current delay and accompanying discussions regarding the need for oversight on Russian facilities, and lack of trust of the Russians, have already had a level of impact on Russian opinion. “That’s not going down to well in Russia, frankly,” Penketh said. “The longer it goes on, the worse it could get.”
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