In 1992, I voted to ratify the original START nuclear arms treaty with Russia along with 92 of my fellow senators. That treaty was the culmination of negotiations that started with President Reagan and concluded under George H.W. Bush.
Both of those presidents and the bipartisan majority of the Senate agreed that it was in our interest to reduce the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals. More importantly, they recognized there was a critical national security need to be able to inspect and verify what Russia was doing with its nuclear weapons arsenal.
Trust but verify – that was Reagan’s mantra when dealing with the Soviet Union. That sentiment is still relevant today in our relations with Russia.
Much has changed. The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union is no more. But as long as Russia has nuclear weapons, it will remain important that we are able to verify Russian actions.
That is why the New START treaty that is currently under Senate consideration is so important. The original START treaty lapsed in December 2009. With it, the verification regime that gave U.S. inspectors access to Russia’s nuclear arsenal also disappeared.
For the time being, the U.S. and Russia have agreed to extend the terms of that regime until a replacement can be put in place. However, if the New START treaty is not ratified, we will likely find ourselves in a situation of trust, but don’t verify. We will be left to guess the size, location and nature of that arsenal because we will have denied ourselves the ability to conduct surveillance and inspections of Russian weapons and facilities.
There has been much talk about the “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations. It is true that today we interact far more often with Russia on international issues as partners rather than adversaries. But we don’t see eye to eye on many things. It would be naïve to say that we have achieved a degree of trust that allows us to not have a binding nuclear arms treaty.
New START will continue to provide on-the-ground information about Russian strategic force deployments that is unavailable from any other source. There is just no other way to gain such insight into Russia’s arsenal. Moreover, such transparency improves predictability and stability not only between our two nations, but it also helps prevent this dangerous material from falling into the hands of those who wish us harm.
At the same time, the modest reductions in Russian and U.S. nuclear stockpiles will leave the U.S. with a significant and flexible nuclear force. Nothing in the treaty constrains our ability to develop and deploy a robust missile defense system as our military planners see fit. The idea that this treaty somehow makes major concessions to the Russians on missile defense is just simply not true.
Modernization of our nuclear weapons complex is extremely important. I applaud those in the administration and Congress, on both sides of the aisle, who are working together in good faith to ensure that we have a safe, effective and reliable arsenal. But such a debate should not hinder our ability to safeguard our national security through the important transparency and verification measures this treaty would provide.
There is a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of the treaty. James Baker, James Schlesinger, Henry Kissinger and William Perry all testified before Congress on New START’s importance. I personally signed a statement put out by the bipartisan Partnership for a Secure America backing START, which included other leading national security figures, such as Colin Powell, George Shultz, Frank Carlucci, Howard Baker and many others. All of these former senators and secretaries of state and defense agree that ratifying New START is a national security priority. Now is the time for the Senate to support the treaty.
Alan Simpson of Cody is a former U.S. senator for Wyoming.