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

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010; A15

"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."

At an Armed Services Committee hearing in June, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said first among his areas of concern on New START was to feel "confident that the treaty is verifiable." Back in 2002, McCain did not attend the Armed Services hearing at which Rumsfeld said, "One reason we saw no need for including detailed verification measures in the treaty" was "there simply isn't any way on earth to verify what Russia is doing with all those warheads."

Rumsfeld added, "Neither side should have an interest in evading the terms of the treaty, since it codifies unilaterally announced reductions." Despite the lack of means to verify compliance in 2003, McCain voted to ratify the Moscow Treaty.

Republicans have sought some guarantee that promises in the Obama administration's 10-year plan to modernize the nuclear weapons complex will be carried out. This year, directors of the nation's nuclear laboratories have testified, as has the director of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), in support of New START. Kyl and others are visiting the labs, seeking further information from the directors.

Eight years ago, only one witness from the NNSA appeared at a hearing that just three Republicans attended. The NNSA's Everet H. Beckner said his agency had a "fairly aggressive" five-year budget plan for the future, but he never was asked for details. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) attended the Aug. 1, 2002, session and asked about the capability to produce more nuclear "pits," the plutonium triggers for thermonucluear weapons. Beckner's answers led Sessions to say, "So for a decade or so we have a window where this is problematic," but nothing else was done or said.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) illustrates another change between today's Republican handling of New START and the 2003 arms treaty ratification process.

Last month, at an Armed Services hearing, Inhofe questioned the number of hearings being held and the failure to call opponents of the pact. As an example, Inhofe noted that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is a member, had held 12 hearings and heard 25 witnesses but that only two had voiced criticism of the treaty. He and other Republicans requested that Levin hold additional Armed Services hearings to give opponents a chance to testify. Armed Services has now had eight hearings on New START.

Eight years ago, it was different. In the months after the Moscow Treaty was signed, the Foreign Relations Committee held only four hearings and Armed Services just two. Two nongovernmental witnesses testified and noted that the pact had no verification procedures, though neither opposed its passage. Neither Inhofe nor any other Republican requested additional hearings or witnesses.

In fact, at the second and last of the Armed Services hearings in 2002, Inhofe said he was "going to be very quick" with only one question to ask. Why? Because, he said, "we have had so many of these hearings, I have run out of questions."

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