Today, Former Secretary of State James Baker— a key figure when the original START treaty was negotiated- testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the history of arms control and on the New START treaty.
He called New START a modest and appropriate continuation of START I, although questions on missile defense, verification and our nuclear umbrella need to be addressed.
Baker’s testimony emphasized the importance of arms control, arguing it is a “critical component of our security” as well as that of our allies. He further suggested that our security increases when diplomatic relations between two nations are characterized by openness rather than secrecy.
He said that the New START takes us in a direction that can enhance our security, improve our relationship with Russia, allow for a reduction in the number of warheads, and increase our ability to work to stem proliferation of nuclear weapons.
In regards to Republican questions about limits on missile defense, Baker said that, in his opinion, it should not be mentioned in the treaty at all- but (in response to Senator Corker) that it is normal to have ambiguous language, that the Russians have always feared our missile defense program, and that the limit on converting offensive missile silos was likely included because it is a meaningless concession that could lessen Russian fears.
In echoing Secretary Gates yesterday, Baker noted that building a missile defense system that would negate Russia’s nuclear arsenal would be destabilizing. Interestingly, Senator DeMint – in an attempt to suggest that the left wants to limit missile defense — wrongly stated that Secretary Clinton had said yesterday that our missile defense program is directed against rogue nations like North Korea or Iran and not Russia. In fact, it was Secretary Gates and not Secretary Clinton who made that statement. Finally, Baker also dismissed Senator Risch’s concerns about the differences between U.S. and Russian unilateral statements regarding missile defense.
Baker, while reminding the committee of his seven hour meeting with Tariq Aziz in 1991 in which he implied that the use of chemical weapons against U.S. forces would be met with a nuclear response, said that the U.S. should be wary of committing to not being able to meet biological or chemical threats with a nuclear response (a commitment made in the Nuclear Posture Review).
Also today, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), speaking at the Nixon Center, derided the Obama Administration’s goal of zero nuclear weapons worldwide. Secretary Baker implicitly replied by noting that zero nuclear weapons is an admirable goal – and saying it should not be dismissed as “airy-fairy.” Secretary Baker specifically noted three conditions he thought necessary to achieve that goal: 1) negotiations with all nuclear threshold states and nuclear capable states at the table, 2) proportional reductions, and 3) unlimited treaty verification. Senator Kyl’s speech more broadly focused on moral leadership and why he believes that leading by example is not an effective policy, a point to which Baker replied to today and Secretary of Defense replied to in hearings a few weeks ago.
All in all, Baker made a modestly strong case for the New START Treaty, the overall importance of arms control, and the relation of both to non-proliferation efforts.