Senate Committee Approves New START

Article excerpt

Amid a highly partisan pre-election season and new allegations about Russian treaty compliance, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 16 passed a resolution of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with bipartisan support.

The 14-4 vote "sends an important signal that even in the most partisan, polarized season, ratifying this treaty is not a matter of politics, it's a national security imperative," committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement.

The committee's action opens the way for a debate and vote by the full Senate, which must approve the resolution of advice and consent by a two-thirds majority for ratification. The Senate is in recess this month and will not vote on New START until after the Nov. 2 elections. Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters Sept. 30 they were both looking forward to a full Senate vote on New START in the postelection congressional session, slated to begin Nov. 15. Prospects for a Senate vote are uncertain but improved after Congress passed a "continuing resolution" to fund the federal government to Dec. 3 that includes a 10% increase for nuclear weapons maintenance and weapons complex modernization, which undecided senators have been demanding. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), who are thought to be tilting in support of New START, told CQ Today Online News Sept. 30 that the new money will help. "It's a good confidence-building step," said Graham.

The White House released a statement the day of the committee vote in which President Barack Obama urged the full Senate to "move forward quickly with a vote to approve this Treaty." Administration officials are pushing for a floor vote as soon as possible to re-establish inspections that ended when START, which was signed in 1991, expired last December. The loss of access for U.S. inspectors has been one of the administration's major arguments for New START.

Committee member Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) made a similar point in a Sept. 20 written statement. "When START I expired we lost our ability to know what is happening with Russia's nuclear arsenal and if New START is ratified we will once again have those assurances," he said.

Corker joined fellow committee Republicans Sens. Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.), as well as the 11 Democrats on the panel, in voting to approve the resolution. Republican Sens. Jim Risch (Idaho), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), and James Inhofe (Okla.) voted no. Sen. Jim DeMint (RS.C.) did not vote on final passage.

Given the Democrats' 11-8 committee advantage, it was no surprise that the treaty won majority support. However, it was not known how many Republican senators would ultimately vote to send the treaty to the Senate floor. Although Lugar, the ranking member, had endorsed the treaty early on, Corker announced his intention to vote in favor only two days before the vote; five other Republicans were officially undecided. Inhofe had previously announced his opposition.

New START, which was signed April 8 by Russia and the United States, would replace the 1991 START. New START would mandate reductions of both sides' deployed strategic nuclear warheads by about 30 percent and associated delivery systems by about 50 percent below previous treaty limits, and it would re-establish a system of inspections and data exchanges to ensure compliance. (See ACT, May 2010.)

Risch Seeks Delay

Soon after Kerry gaveled the Sept. 16 meeting to order, Risch tried to hold up the proceedings on the basis of latebreaking intelligence information that he said should prevent the committee from voting on New START. "Yesterday the intelligence community brought to us some very serious information that directly affects what we're doing here, not only the actual details of this but actually whether or not we should debate going forward with this," he told the committee. …