The prospects for ratification of the New START nuclear arms reduction agreement rose dramatically today.
Former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, who was a key figure in torpedoing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1999 and opposed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, today endorsed ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty.
He is widely admired by Republicans for his extensive experience and forceful positions on nuclear issues and has been a close ally of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Schlesinger and Kyl almost dual-handedly killed the test ban treaty.
His endorsement of the treaty follow that of other Republican heavyweights such as Former Republican Secretaries of State George Shultz, Former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley, Former National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Ambassador Linton Brooks, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and former START negotiator Richard Burt.
It also follows enthusiastic support for the treaty by uniformed and civilian Pentagon leadership.
Public opinion polling shows strong support for the treaty as well: 60% in a Quinnipiac poll and 70% in a CNN poll.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee along with former Secretary of Defense William Perry, Schlesinger said, “It is obligatory for the US to ratify this treaty,” while acknowledging that this treaty and all treaties have shortcomings.
Schlesinger also agreed with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who identified that, “failure to ratify New START is detrimental to U.S. influence over other countries’ non-proliferation policies.”
(Note: All Schlesinger quotes and statements are taken from John Isaacs’ notes, rather than from a transcript, and may not be exact.)
Dr. Schlesinger made several other statements that will help the treaty’s prospects for ratification. While he acknowledged that there is less verification in this treaty than in START I, which was signed in 1991, he argued that, “all in all, verification possibilities are still adequate.”
He identified that there though missile defense is mentioned in the treaty preamble and the treaty itself, “the treaty does not limit U.S. missile defense in a serious way.”
In response to a question from Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), both Schlesinger and Perry agreed that New START had to be ratified as a precursor for dealing with the issue of tactical nuclear weapons, where the Russians have a significant advantage.
Dr. Schlesinger even went so far as to soften some treaty criticism in his prepared statement, which stated: “As to the stated context of strategic nuclear weapons, the numbers specified are adequate,” and he then added, “at the reduced level,” a change from “though barely so” wording in his prepared text.
He endorsed the Obama administration’s new nuclear weapons budget for Fiscal Year 2011 when he said, “the add-on for next year looks to be significant.”
In short, New START, which has yet to be formally sent to the Senate, starts off (no pun intended) in good shape before the inevitable slings and arrows of congressional debate.