U.S. Senate Ratifies Nuclear Arms Treaty with Russia

WASHINGTON, DC, December 22, 2010 (ENS) – The U.S. Senate today ratified the New START Treaty with Russia. The nuclear arms reduction treaty had needed at least two-thirds support for passage. The vote was 71 to 26, with 13 Republicans voting for ratification, handing President Barack Obama a hard-fought foreign policy victory.

“It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year. There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress,” President Obama said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said, “This broadly bipartisan ratification sends a clear message to the world: America’s leadership on nuclear nonproliferation is strong and unwavering.”

“This treaty will reduce the stockpiles of the world’s two largest nuclear powers, preserve our nation’s ability to defend itself, and maintain vigorous monitoring of Russia’s nuclear arsenal,” said Senator Reid.

Thanking Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and Ranking Member Richard Lugar of Indiana, for leading “the open, honest and thorough debate on this treaty,” Reid said, “The fact that Democrats and Republicans came together to support this commonsense measure to keep our nation safe sends the right message to our country and the world.”

B61 nuclear bombs. Designed in 1961, the B61 is the primary nuclear weapon in the U.S. stockpile. (Photo courtesy National Nuclear Security Administration)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “The treaty will enhance strategic stability at lower numbers of nuclear weapons, provide a rigorous inspection regime including on-site access to Russian missile silos, strengthen our leadership role in stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and provide the necessary flexibility to structure our strategic nuclear forces to best meet national security interests.”

The treaty, Gates said, “stands on its merits and its prompt ratification will strengthen U.S. national security.”

The New START treaty was signed on April 8, 2010 in Prague by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

It is a follow-up to the 1991 START I treaty, which expired in December 2009, and to START II and the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, which was due to expire in December 2012.

Ratification by the Russian Duma, or Parliament, is still pending.

Under the treaty, the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers will be reduced by half. A new inspection and verification regime will be established.

The treaty limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by each party to 1,550, which is down nearly two-thirds from the original START treaty, as well as 30 percent lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty.

Meanwhile, a number of operationally inactive stockpiled nuclear warheads will remain in the high thousands in both countries.

Senator Lugar, a Republican who supports the treaty, faced opposition to ratification from senators within his own party. Today, he enumerated the demands on America’s military and said the New START treaty would give the country “a chance to constrain expensive arms competition with Russia” at a time of “growing resource constraints reflected in a $14 trillion debt.

“We have a chance to guarantee transparency and confidence-building procedures that contribute to our fundamental national security,” said Lugar. “We have a chance to frustrate rogue nations, who would prefer as much distance as possible between the United States and Russia on nuclear questions. And we have a chance to strike a blow against nuclear proliferation that deeply threatens American citizens and our interests in the world.”

“Over the last seven months the Senate has performed due diligence on the New START treaty,” Lugar said. “Most importantly, we have gathered and probed military opinion about what the treaty would mean for our national defense. We have heard from the top military leadership, as well as the commanders who oversee our nuclear weapons and our missile defense. We have heard from former Secretaries of Defense and STRATCOM commanders who have confirmed the judgment of current military leaders. Their answers have demonstrated a carefully-reasoned military consensus in favor of ratifying the treaty.”

The Republicans voting in favor of ratification are: Alexander (R-TN), Bennett (R-UT), Brown (R-MA), Cochran (R-MS), Collins (R-ME), Corker (R-TN), Gregg (R-NH), Isakson (R-GA), Johanns (R-NE), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), Snowe (R-ME), Voinovich (R-OH). New START Treaty limits on nuclear weapons:

  • 1,550 warheads. Warheads on deployed ICBMs and deployed SLBMs count toward this limit and each deployed heavy bomber equipped for nuclear armaments counts as one warhead toward this limit. This limit is 74 percent lower than the limit of the 1991 START Treaty and 30 percent lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty.
  • A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers, and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
  • A separate limit of 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments. This limit is less than half the corresponding strategic nuclear delivery vehicle limit of the START Treaty.

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