For decades, American inspectors have monitored Russian nuclear forces, putting into practice President Ronald Reagan's favorite maxim, "Trust, but verify." But since the old START Treaty expired last December, we have relied on trust alone. Until a new treaty comes into force, our inspectors will not have access to Russian missile silos and the world's two largest nuclear arsenals will lack the stability that comes with a rigorous inspection regime.
Before this session of Congress ends, we urge senators to approve an arms control treaty that would again allow U.S. inspectors access to Russian strategic sites and reduce the number of nuclear weapons held by both nations to a level not seen since the 1950s.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, builds on foundations laid by American leaders from both political parties over the past four decades. It has broad bipartisan backing. Six former secretaries of state, five former secretaries of defense and three former national security advisers have endorsed ratification, along with seven former commanders of U.S. Strategic Command and the entire current U.S. military leadership. They understand that nuclear dangers did not disappear with the Soviet Union and that we have a responsibility - to Americans and our allies - to keep our eyes on the world's other major strategic nuclear arsenal.
Time is running out for this Congress. Here is what's at stake:
New START will advance critical national security objectives: Reducing the number of deployed nuclear weapons while retaining a safe and effective deterrent; providing direct insight into Russia's nuclear arsenal; and creating a more stable, predictable and cooperative relationship between the world's two leading nuclear powers.
It will put in place an effective verification regime to track each side's progress in reducing its arsenal to 1,550 strategic warheads. We will be able to count the number of deployed strategic weapons more accurately, because we will exchange more data on weapons and their movement than in the past. We will also conduct 18 short-notice inspections of Russian nuclear forces each year, including checking warheads on individual missiles.
New START will also set the stage for future arms reductions, including negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons. It will help solidify the "reset" of U.S. relations with Russia, which has allowed us to cooperate in pursuit of our strategic interests.
That's what the treaty will do. Here's what it will not do:
It will not limit our ability to develop and deploy the most effective missile defenses to protect America's forces and territory, and to enhance the security of our allies and partners. This administration is committed to sustaining and improving our missile defense capabilities and has proposed spending nearly $10 billion in fiscal 2011 to do so.
It will not restrict our ability to modernize our nuclear forces. On the contrary, the United States will continue to maintain a robust nuclear deterrent based on our "triad" of delivery systems: intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers for nuclear armaments. To sustain and modernize these systems, the administration has proposed spending well over $100 billion during the next decade.
Furthermore, the treaty permits us to make investments as needed to maintain a secure and effective nuclear stockpile. The administration has proposed spending $7 billion for this purpose in the current fiscal year - a nearly 10 percent increase - and more than $80 billion to modernize our nuclear weapons complex over the next decade, including a major life-extension program for current warheads. In all, the administration proposes spending more than $180 billion on the infrastructure that sustains our nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them - a substantial investment in the credibility and efficacy of America's nuclear deterrent.
Finally, New START will not constrain our ability to develop and deploy the most effective conventional capabilities possible, including strike systems that could potentially hit a target anywhere on the globe in less than an hour.
Every president since the beginning of the Cold War has opted for verifiable arms control deals. Each time, the Senate has backed these treaties by overwhelming margins. The START Treaty, negotiated by Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, was approved in 1992 by 93 votes to 6. The Moscow Treaty, negotiated by President George W. Bush, was approved 95 to 0 in 2003.
The New START Treaty also deserves prompt ratification. Our national security depends on it.