For the past 15 years, our principal arms control agreement with Russia, START, has been based on President Ronald Reagan’s guiding principle, “Trust, but verify.”
But START, which allowed us to monitor and inspect Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal, expired last December. Now, we have only trust — and that’s not enough in an uncertain world.
The Senate can change that by voting for New START, which sets lower limits on both U.S. and Russian strategic warheads and long-range missiles and bombers and restores a strong verification regime.
If the Senate approves the treaty — a two-thirds vote is required — we will be able to regain and improve upon our ability to verify what Russia is doing with its nuclear arsenal.
Without New START, our knowledge of Russia’s nuclear forces is likely to erode and the risks of misunderstandings and miscalculations will grow. Worst-case assumptions are then likely to fuel military planning in both countries, increasing costs and decreasing trust.
This new treaty could provide a vital window into Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal and help track it. The new inspection regime draws on our experience over the past 15 years with the original START.
As with START, each side will provide extensive data on its strategic forces and will be able to conduct on-site inspections of the other side’s forces and related facilities. New START provides for up to 18 short-notice inspections of 35 Russian sites per year — a better ratio than START, which permitted 28 annual inspections of 70 facilities.
Under the new treaty, inspectors are to count each warhead on a missile, rather than using the old START method of checking whether a missile exceeds its permitted warhead load. Each missile and heavy bomber would also have a unique identifier, like a bar code, to enable better tracking of the weapon’s movement or change in deployment status.
Moreover, under New START, a single inspection would provide more data than under the expired agreement. But it is also important to understand what the treaty does not do.
It will not affect our ability to modernize our delivery systems and nuclear complex or to develop the most effective missile defenses.
Our commitment to modernizing our nuclear capabilities and to fielding effective missile defenses is backed by substantial investments in these missions. The Obama administration plans to spend at least $180 billion to upgrade the nuclear complex and to sustain associated weapons systems over the next decade. An additional $45 billion is slated for missile defenses over the next five years.
These investments — as well as New START — reflect an emerging bipartisan consensus that we can enhance our national security through bilateral reductions in nuclear weapons but that those weapons must be safe, secure and effective.
As officials who worked to complete the new treaty, we can vouch for our negotiators’ efforts to get the best possible agreement. But don’t take our word for it.
Presidents from both political parties decided that we are better off with arms-control agreements than without them. In the past, the Senate has approved arms-control agreements like this by overwhelming bipartisan votes, including the original START, approved 93-6, and the Moscow Treaty, negotiated by President George W. Bush and approved 95-0.
New START also has the unanimous support of our military leaders and the backing of five former secretaries of defense, six former secretaries of state and seven former heads of the military command in charge of our nuclear weapons.
We hope that senators continue that tradition by voting to approve New START today.
Ellen Tauscher is Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. She represented California in Congress from 1997 to 2009. James Miller is the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.