The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, as it is known, will reduce U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons by 30 percent. As with all international treaties, the Senate must ratify New START, and I hope we will do so later this year.
As Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described it, New START will “make our country more secure and advance our core national security interests.” This treaty is in keeping with a long tradition of bilateral, verifiable arms control agreements with Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, and it strengthens the U.S. commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
While the treaty would reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads in our inventory, our nuclear arsenal would still deter potential enemies. We would maintain our “strategic triad” — the combination of land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles and nuclear-armed bombers that gives us our flexible nuclear deterrent.
During the Cold War, our arms reduction treaties with the Soviet Union were designed primarily to limit the dangers of a nuclear confrontation between the superpowers. In today’s security environment, it is the threat of nuclear terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons to countries like Iran that concern us. Through this treaty and related efforts to secure nuclear materials, we will reduce these dangers.
How? The United States and Russia together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. Reducing the number of these weapons, and the systems that could deliver them, reduces the chances that terrorists might acquire one or that they could be used accidentally.
This treaty is also a strong statement that the United States is committed to reducing the dangers to the world that nuclear weapons present. That commitment makes it easier for us to work with the international community, including Russia, to contain the threat of nuclear weapons programs in countries such as North Korea and Iran.
The treaty accomplishes these important goals, but there are some things it does not do. For instance, there have been many statements suggesting that the treaty imposes constraints on our missile defense plans and programs. That is simply incorrect. This treaty limits strategic offensive nuclear arms, not missile defenses. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Armed Services Committee, “The treaty will not constrain the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses possible nor impose additional costs or barriers on those defenses.”
Along with this treaty, President Obama’s administration has brought a new focus on maintaining the nuclear stockpile through increased scientific and technical rigor. To keep a credible deterrent, and to be confident that we can make reductions in the number of warheads, we have to make sure our remaining warheads will work. If an adversary does not believe that our weapons work, the weapons don’t serve as a deterrent. The administration has laid out a plan to restore the needed funding to ensure that for the foreseeable future, U.S. nuclear weapons are safe, secure and reliable. Our top scientists testify that we can achieve that goal without new warheads and without testing.
I hope the Senate will promptly ratify this important agreement. The New START treaty will make us safer today, and leave a safer world for our children and grandchildren. It will reduce the chance that a terrorist or rogue nation can use these terrible weapons against us. That’s an opportunity we should be eager to seize.