Fine Print

New START: A similar arms reduction pact but a different Republican reaction

(Brendan Smialowski/getty Images)
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"This treaty is a masterstroke. . . . It is shorn of the tortured bench marks, sub-limits, arcane definitions and monitoring provisions that weighed down past arms control treaties," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "It assumes a degree of trust between nations that are no longer on the precipice of war."

Those were words from Kyl's floor speech on March 6, 2003, in support of ratification of the Moscow Treaty, signed nine months earlier by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The resolution for ratification passed that day without opposition, 95 to 0 with five senators absent, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), today's minority leader. Twenty-four Republicans who voted for that treaty seven years ago are in the Senate today, but not one, save possibly Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), has indicated he or she will vote for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), negotiated by President Obama's team. New START has sub-limits, definitions and monitoring provisions.

In fact, Kyl and many of the 23 other senators are critical of elements of New START that they readily accepted or ignored in the agreement they embraced seven years ago.

The three-page Moscow Treaty called for reducing by Dec. 31, 2012 -- 10 years later -- both countries' strategic nuclear warheads as described individually by the two presidents. Bush's statement was given on Nov. 13, 2001, at the time of a meeting with the Russian president. Putin spoke at the Russian Embassy in Washington on that same date, and he expanded his views on Dec. 13, 2001, in Moscow.

Bush described the limit as 1,700 to 2,200 "operationally deployed" nuclear warheads. Putin mentioned numbers in only the December statement, saying the limit "should be at the level of 1,500 to 2,200 nuclear warheads for each side."

The Bush-Putin treaty does not include the phrase "operationally deployed" when it refers to the 1,700-to-2,200 limit on "strategic nuclear warheads."

At the first of two hearings that the Senate Armed Services Committee held on the treaty in 2002, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), then as now chairman of the panel, noted that the phrase "operationally deployed" would be "key to the treaty" because those were apparently the only weapons put under limits. Yet, he pointed out, there was no definition of "operationally deployed" attached to the treaty.

When Levin asked Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld whether the Russians had a similar interpretation since Putin had not used language similar to Bush's, Rumsfeld agreed that the negotiators had not included "any precise definition." But, the secretary added, "we have indicated what we consider it to be, and there is no question that the Russians will be using something roughly approximating that."

How times have changed.

This year, one of the main issues of Republican opponents, including Kyl, has been the exact meaning of language linking strategic offensive weapons to missile defense. Kyl and others are demanding a look at the negotiating record to satisfy themselves on the meaning of the language and to make sure no private deals were reached.

No request was made eight years ago to see if there was a common understanding on "operationally deployed."

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