Senate Foreign Relations Committee approves START Treaty; prospects for full senate approval unclear.

Author:Crook, John R.
Position:Use of Force and Arms Control

In September 2010, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution of ratification for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia by a vote of 14 to 4. (1) The treaty would modestly reduce previous limits on strategic nuclear warheads and launchers, (2) but would also establish a renewed monitoring and on-scene inspection program, replacing the verification measures that lapsed in December 2009 when the previous strategic arms treaty expired. (3)

Three Republicans joined with the committee's Democratic members, although a Republican opponent of the treaty implied that recent classified intelligence information cast doubt on the prospects for Russian compliance. The resolution of ratification, drafted by ranking Republican Richard Lugar, included provisions intended to address treaty opponents' concerns, including language addressing concerns about missile defense and modernization of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. (4)

Under the U.S. Constitution, advice and consent to ratification of a treaty requires a two-thirds supermajority. Accordingly, the treaty's prospects for Senate approval are not clear in the wake of the November 2010 U.S. elections, in which the Republican Party gained six additional seats. For many Republican Senators, possible support for the treaty is linked to substantial increases in funding to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons and the facilities that manufacture and maintain them. (5) Senator John Kyl, the Republican "point man" on negotiations on nuclear modernization, (6) announced that too little time remained to consider the treaty in the "lame duck" congressional session following the elections. (7)

Notwithstanding Senator's Kyl's position and opposition by other members of his party, the administration is seeking a vote on the treaty before Congress adjourns in December 2010. (8) As of the date of this writing (early December 2010), the outcome is not known. In addition to being influenced by questions concerning nuclear modernization, a possible vote on the treaty has been caught up in debates over the extension of expiring tax cuts.

Opposition to the treaty has led to an unusual conflict between conservative Republican opponents (9) and senior U.S. military authorities, who strongly support ratification. (10) Uncertainty regarding the treaty's prospects has also led to concern among U.S. allies (11) and to Russian warnings of a renewed arms race. (12)

(1) Senate Foreign Relations Committee...

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