On July 23, after two weeks of debate, the Senate passed the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 87-7. While the fight over the F-22 early in the week garnered most of the media attention, there was also an important development on nuclear weapons.
Arms control advocates have worried for months that Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) would use the floor debate as a way to undermine the START follow-on process and further lay the groundwork for opposition to the CTBT. Sure enough, on July 22, Senator Kyl offered an amendment to place limitations on spending to implement a START follow-on treaty unless (1) the treaty is verifiable; (2) places no limitations on missile defense, space capabilities or advanced conventional weapons, and (3) the Obama Administration’s FY 2011 budget will be sufficiently funded to maintain the reliability, safety and security of U.S. nuclear weapons and modernize and refurbish the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Kyl’s amendment was basically identical to an amendment Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) offered to the National Defense Authorization Act on the House floor, which eventually passed by voice vote on June 25 as part of a managers amendment offered by House Armed Service Committee Chariman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO).
But thanks to the due diligence of Sen. Levin, Sen. Kerry, and their staff, Sen. Kyl was forced to offer a considerably weaker amendment to his original amendment, which passed on July 23. The new version calls for a report from the President on the Administration’s plans to enhance the safety, security and reliability of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, modernize the nuclear weapons complex, and maintain nuclear weapons delivery systems. The revised amendment also includes a sense of the Senate that the START follow-on treaty not include limitations on ballistic missile defense, space capabilities, or advanced conventional weapons.
Though the new version is far from perfect, it’s a significant upgrade over the original amendment (and the Turner amendment that passed in the House), which included explicit budget limitations and requirements. (Update 7/28: Ky’ls demand for a report on enhancing the safety, security, and reliability of the stockpile and modernizing the complex within 30 days is particularly befuddling, since these are issues the Nuclear Posture Review is already analyzing and will present conclusions on later in the year in any event. In previous statements, Kyl has attacked the Obama administration for seeking a START follow-on agreement before the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is fully completed, but now he wants to prejudge the results of the NPR by requiring a report on enhancing the safety, security, and reliability of the stockpile and modernizing the complex before the NPR is fully completed! I’m confused.)
Sen. Kyl likely had to retract his original amendment because he couldn’t find 33 additional Republicans (or hawkish Dem’s such as Liebermann, Ben Nelson, or Begich) willing to aid him in his efforts to sabotage the START follow-on negotiations while they’re still ongoing (34 votes will be required to defeat the Treaty). This bodes well for the prospects of a START follow-on treaty when it comes to the Senate floor, likely sometime next spring.
Here’s to hoping the Obama administration took notice of Kyl’s mischief making. So far its efforts to make the case that a new arms control treaty with Russia will enhance U.S. security have been less than stellar. The White House needs to do a better job of knocking down the kind of arguments skeptics of the START follow-on process have been making before they begin to generate serious momentum. For example, below are possible responses to the three conditions Sen. Kyl sought to pre-impose on a START follow-on treaty. The administration needs to be making them forcefully and repeatedly:
(1) Will the treaty provide for sufficient mechanisms to verify compliance with the treaty or agreement? Response: As President Ronald Reagan repeatedly said, “trust but verify.” The United States has long-established techniques and facilities for verifying Russian compliance with its treaty obligations. The existing START agreement provides a comprehensive set of monitoring and verification provisions that have greatly facilitated the efforts of the American intelligence community to verify Russian nuclear actions. The START follow-on treaty will rely heavily on this infrastructure.
(2) Will the treaty place reductions or limitations on the ballistic missile defense, space, or advanced conventional weapon capabilities of the United States? Response: It is clear that the Obama administration is not ready to abandon the proposed European deployment and will keep missile defense on a separate track from reductions in strategic offensive arms. In fact, Obama and Medvedev have previously stated that the START follow-on agreement will deal only with offensive strategic forces.
(3)Will the fiscal year 2011 budget request for programs of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration be sufficiently funded to increase the reliability, safety, and security of the remaining strategic nuclear forces of the United States; and modernize the nuclear weapons complex? Response: First, the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States drew a clear dividing line between “tak[ing] a modest first step to ensure that there is a successor to START I when it expires at the end of 2009” and “the challenges of deeper nuclear reductions.” The Commission did not hinge “taking a modest first step” upon modernizing the stockpile. Second, the Secretaries of Defense and Energy have annually certified the reliability of the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile even though the United States last tested in 1992. Today, we know more about and have greater confidence in our nuclear warheads than when testing.