Congress must act on arms control with extension of New Start Treaty

Congress must act on arms control with extension of New Start Treaty
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The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee exhibited bipartisan cooperation in advancing international security interests by supporting extension of the New Start Treaty. It prevents a nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia and gives the United States key information about Russian nuclear weapons, reasons why Pentagon leaders strongly endorse it. By introducing a bill to push for renewing the New Start Treaty before it will expire in 2021, Chairman Eliot Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul give Republicans and Democrats a way to support the newfound desire of President TrumpDonald John TrumpBusiness, ballots and battling opioids: Why the Universal Postal Union benefits the US Sanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth MORE to reduce global nuclear dangers.

The White House reportedly wants to negotiate bold new arms control agreements with Russia and China. Since the New Start Treaty entered into force, Russia has continued nuclear modernization and introduced several new nuclear weapons systems. China has continued to increase its arsenal of mostly conventional armed ballistic missiles, creating additional risks for American forces and those of our allies across the Pacific region. Members of both parties should support efforts to address these threats. However, these negotiations could be very complicated and, if history is any guide, finalizing new arms control agreements could take years.

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Extending the New Start Treaty buys time for the administration to seek new agreements. Conducting arms control negotiations with the safety net of limits on deployed weapons and verification and intelligence monitoring provisions under the New Start Treaty will make such efforts easier. This more recent White House perspective stems from worries of the cost of a nuclear arms race. The loss of New Start Treaty information could force the United States to significantly grow its nuclear arsenal to account for “worst case scenario” planning. American military leaders recognize this danger and support the New Start Treaty. They also see no need to deploy nuclear weapons beyond its limits, as evidenced in the nuclear posture review. In pushing for extension, Engel and McCaul are helping President Trump meet his goal of stopping a nuclear arms race.

The House bill is named for the late Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of California, a Republican and Democrat who each understood the importance of bipartisan cooperation on arms control. Lugar had a long career advocating for nuclear nonproliferation that was capped off by his partnership with John Kerry to shepherd the New Start Treaty through the Senate in 2010, bringing a dozen Republican colleagues with him to support ratification. Tauscher, who joined the State Department in 2009 as the most senior arms control official after leaving Congress, helped push the New Start Treaty through the Senate, leaning on years of legislative engagement with the nuclear laboratories in her district and the relationships with her former Republican colleagues.

The bill identifies the potential risks to international security of allowing the New Start Treaty to lapse in 2021. It requires the administration to report to Congress on the state of national security should the New Start Treaty lapse. How may allies react to its expiration? Can the intelligence community manage the loss of information about Russian nuclear forces, and at what cost? Will the United States be better off without the New Start Treaty, as opposed to if it were extended? Indeed, these are leading questions, but the answers will demonstrate the clear value of extending the New Start Treaty, along with the inherent key risks should it lapse.

President Trump can extend it with the stroke of a pen. Difficult politicized Senate advice and consent votes during an election year are not required. However, Republican support for the New Start Treaty in Congress is an important signal to voters and the policy mutable commander in chief that it is important to national security and worthy of preservation. At a time when the world looks to Washington for signs of American leadership to lower the risks of nuclear war, Engel and McCaul truly act as statesmen. It is my hope that this is the first of many more examples of Republicans joining Democrats to support the extension of the New Start Treaty.

Hopefully more Republicans see McCaul is not damaging his relationship with his voters or President Trump by publicly supporting arms control, but is helping rebuild nonpartisan interest in and support for prudent arms control policy. In the spirit of Senator Lugar and Congresswoman Tauscher, Democrats and Republicans should work together on nuclear arms control, beginning with the extension of the New Start Treaty.

Pranay Vaddi is a fellow in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He served as an adviser on the New Start Treaty and worked on arms control issues at the State Department.