Mullen urges Senate to ratify arms treaty

Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The nation's top military officer appealed to the Senate on Monday to ratify a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, as supporters attracted more Republican votes, making it increasingly likely that the pact would be approved.

The letter from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could intensify the pressure on wavering Republicans by putting them in the awkward position of rejecting the military's advice on a national security issue if they voted "no."

The letter came amid intense efforts on both sides to sway senators on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which could face a vote as early as Tuesday. Seven Republican senators have publicly supported it, putting the administration within two votes of victory. The White House says it has the votes for passage.

But the pact has gotten caught up in the political tempest of the lame-duck session, with Republicans angry that the Obama administration is pushing the treaty and other favored issues before the Democrats' Senate majority shrinks next year.

"Our top concern should be the safety and security of our nation, not some politician's desire to declare a political victory and host a press conference before the first of the year," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) declared in a floor speech. He and the second-ranking Republican in the chamber - Jon Kyl (Ariz.) - came out Sunday against the treaty.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Republican lawmakers had raised legitimate issues, but "we believe that we've answered those concerns . . . Any objections at this point are more about politics than substance." Senate Republicans are in the unusual position of bucking top U.S. military leaders twice in a week - first on the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation, which Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates supported, and now on New START. Nearly all current and former commanders of U.S. nuclear-weapons forces have backed the treaty.

Mullen's letter was a rebuke to Republicans who have sought to postpone consideration of the treaty until next year and amend it to allow more inspections and to raise the number of permitted nuclear-capable missiles and aircraft.

"The sooner it is ratified, the better," he wrote, saying that New START was "vital to U.S. national security."

Mullen emphasized that he had been personally involved in the treaty's negotiations. "Military perspectives were thoroughly considered," he wrote.

The letter was requested by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who has led the effort to ratify the treaty.

The treaty reduces deployed, long-range warheads on both sides by up to 30 percent and trims the number of submarines, missiles and heavy bombers that carry them. More important, in the military's eyes, the pact reestablishes a system in which each side inspects the other's strategic arsenal. A similar monitoring system ended last year when START I expired.

Without such inspections, Mullen wrote, the military might be forced into "an inordinate and unwise shift of scarce resources from other high priority requirements to maintain adequate awareness of Russian nuclear forces." Officials have said, for example, that they would have to divert satellites from hot spots such as Afghanistan to increase coverage of Russia.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company