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Put national security ahead of partisanship

New START has been thoroughly vetted. The Senate has held
18 hearings and four briefings over the last eight months, and 1,000 questions
for the record have been asked and answered. Three months ago the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee passed the treaty by a bipartisan vote of 14-4, and
New START has been ready for a floor vote ever since.

By comparison, the Senate held 18 hearings and spent five
days debating the original START agreement in 1992, a more complicated treaty
negotiated during the Cold War. It passed 93-6. The Senate spent two days
debating the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in 2003, which passed 95-0.
Two to three days of floor debate should be sufficient for New START.

New START has the support of more than the two-thirds majority
needed for ratification. In recent days, a number of Republican Senators have
joined Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and have made statements expressing that
they support the treaty or are favorably inclined to support the treaty. The
Senate has had more than enough time to review New START. It can and should act
this year – not next year.

For months, some Senators demanded more time before the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on the treaty and some, including
Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) who suggested the treaty should be considered
during a post-election session.

In order to address those concerns, the committee vote was
postponed from August until September and the treaty is coming up during the
post-election session. Now, some including Kyl are cynically suggesting there
is not enough time to consider the treaty before the end of the year.

That would be a huge mistake: pushing New START into 2011
would further delay the re-establishment of an effective U.S.-Russian
inspection and monitoring system, undermine U.S. nonproliferation leadership,
and jeopardize U.S.-Russian cooperation, including joint efforts to contain
Iran’s nuclear program. Without New START, Russia would be able to continue to
deploy about 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads.

Opponents are resorting to delaying tactics because they
have tried — and failed — to make their arguments stick.

For instance, assertions that the treaty’s nonbinding
language on the “interrelationship” between strategic offenses and
defenses will limit U.S. missile defense options do not add up. As Secretary of
Defense Robert Gates bluntly said May 18, “[T]he treaty will not constrain
the United States from deploying the most effective missile defenses
possible.”

Some complain that New START does not reduce Russia’s
tactical nuclear warhead levels, which have never been covered by a treaty. By
design, New START addresses strategic nuclear weapons. It does not make sense
to risk verifiable reduction in Russia’s long-range nuclear weapons by
insisting that the policy for short-range weapons be settled now. New START
lays the diplomatic foundation necessary for a future accord on tactical
nuclear weapons reductions.

Sen. Kyl’s own concerns about funding levels for the U.S.
nuclear weapons complex have also been fully addressed – and then some. The
Obama administration has delivered a 10-year plan for funding the nuclear
weapons complex that now totals a whopping $85 billion, which is a 21 percent
rise above the proposed fiscal year 2011 funding level for National Nuclear
Security Administration weapons activities. By any common sense definition,
that provides more than enough resources to support programs to maintain the
effectiveness of the shrinking U.S. nuclear stockpile without nuclear explosive
testing. Failure to move ahead with New START – as well as the Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty – would undermine the fragile consensus for the higher funding levels
for the already well-funded nuclear weapons labs.

Some things should be bigger than politics. Approval of
New START this year would be a win for America.

Daryl Kimball is executive director of the Arms Control
Association.

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