START treaty survives threat from McCain amendment on missile defense

The Senate voted, 37-59, on Saturday to reject an amendment to the preamble of the New START treaty that Democrats say would have gutted it.

The amendment sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would have separated the issue of defensive missile interceptors from efforts to reduce American and Russian stockpiles of intercontinental offensive nuclear weapons.

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The treaty’s preamble specifically links the issues by “recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms” and goes on to state, “This interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced.”

McCain argued it is not appropriate to link the development of missile defenses to negotiations to reduce the nearly 25,000 offensive nuclear weapons possessed between Russia and the United States.

“It’s not appropriate for today, when the United States and the Russian Federation, for all of our differences, are not devoted to one another’s destruction and when one of the greatest threats to our national security comes from rogue states, like Iran and North Korea, which are developing nuclear weapons and increasingly better means to deliver them,” McCain said.

McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), one of the lead GOP critics of the treaty, worry it could hamper the nation’s development of a ballistic missile shield.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Republican concerns were overstated because the preamble does not have a binding effect on the signatories.

Kerry opposed McCain’s amendment because he said it would have forced the treaty and its preamble to be renegotiated, delaying Senate ratification for months.

“All of this argument that they have been going on for several days now is about language that has no binding impact on this treaty,” Kerry said.

"If you change it, it requires this treaty to go back to the government, the Russian government, and then we don’t have this treaty, we don’t have any verification for whatever number of months follow,” he said.

President Obama sent a letter to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Saturday assuring him the treaty would not curtail U.S. missile defense systems.

“The New START treaty places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense programs,” Obama wrote. “As the NATO summit meeting in Lisbon last month underscored, we are proceeding apace with a missile defense system in Europe designed to provide full coverage for NATO members on the continent, as well as deployed U.S. forces.”

The Senate will vote on additional votes to the treaty beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday.