Today at 9:30 AM, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will take up the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). President Barack Obama's allies on the committee, including committee chair John Kerry (D-MA) and ranking member Richard Lugar (R-IN), both support the treaty, so the treaty is all but guaranteed to pass out of the committee. But the agreement also needs 67 votes for approval in the full Senate, which is why the White House is desperate to get at least one conservative to vote for the treaty in committee. But New START is still seriously flawed and the only viable solution for senators troubled by the agreement's flaws is to amend the treaty.
Contrary to popular belief, the Senate does not "ratify" treaties. Its constitutional role is to give its "advice and consent" to the President. The Senate fulfills this mandate by considering a resolution of ratification. This document can contain reservations, conditions, understandings or declarations to a treaty. The Senate may also amend the text of a treaty. New START is so deeply flawed on the issues of missile defense and verification that amendment to the treaty is the best possible route for protecting our national security.
Missile Defense: The treaty’s most serious impact is the limitations it imposes on the U.S. ballistic missile defense systems. The Obama administration has sworn up and down that New START does not "contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs." This is just plain false, as subsequent White House backtracking has established. The fact is that both the treaty's preamble and Russia's unilateral statement at the signing of the treaty explicitly link missile defense and offensive nuclear weapons. Furthermore, Article V specifically limits our ability to convert ICBM and submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers into defensive interceptors.
Given the trends in the proliferation of nuclear weapons and rapid improvements in the means to deliver them (think Iran and North Korea), the U.S. government must maintain its right to defend the people, territory, institutions and infrastructure of both the United States and its allies. New START fails to do this as it limits missile defense and encourages a return to a Cold War retaliation-based policy where U.S. cities and people were held hostage. This is unacceptable. At the very minimum the Senate should add a reservation on missile defense stating unequivocally that U.S. options for improving and expanding its missile defense capabilities in any way it chooses are preserved.
Verification: The Obama administration is telling skeptical senators that "rejecting the treaty would leave the two countries dangerously uncertain about each other’s arsenals." But New START’s verification terms are so weak that they add little informational value. Paula A. DeSutter, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, noted in a Heritage lecture in June: "The Russians can do so much under this treaty to advance and expand their strategic forces… [yet] our ability to determine whether or not they are doing that and whether it violates the treaty is very, very low. The degree of verifiability is very low."
Worse, the administration admitted in Congressional testimony in July that they don’t even care if the Russians cheat on the treaty. The treaty even permits concealment activities at ICBM bases. The best possible solution to this serious flaw is to amend the text of the treaty as necessary.
Congress is required by the Constitution to "provide for the common defense," and the Senate must provide due diligence in its consideration of the treaty. There are no easy solutions to fixing the problems of the flawed New START. Foremost, the Senate should avoid rubberstamping the treaty. Heritage Foundation F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy Baker Spring writes: "The new strategic environment requires the U.S. to possess robust missile defenses and a range of conventional and non-conventional capabilities to prevent and deter attacks. The very survival of the U.S. may be at stake."