Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tauscher and Nearly 30 Other Reps. Urge Bush to Extend START

Hats off to Rep. Ellen Tauscher, Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, who announced yesterday that she and nearly 30 other Representatives were sending a letter to President Bush urging him to extend the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) until a new agreement is reached.

The impressive group of Reps. included chairmen from three key committees, including Chairman Ike Skelton of the House Armed Services Committee, Chairman John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee, and Chairman Tom Lantos of House International Relations Committee.

As previous reported, the Bush administration announced in May that it plans to let START I expire when it runs out at the end of 2009. The Treaty barred its signatories from deploying more than 6,000 “countable” nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers.

While both the U.S. and Russia are well below these limitations, START I also established an elaborate scheme of inspections, data sharing, advance missile test notifications and satellite surveillance, which later provided the foundation for monitoring compliance with the toothless Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), also known as the Moscow Treaty.

SORT requires the U.S. and Russia to reduce the number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads (on ICBMs, SLBMs, heavy bombers, or otherwise) to 1,700-2,200 by the end of 2012. But because SORT doesn’t require the destruction of the warheads, they could instead be removed from service and stored in reserve stockpiles where the warheads could quickly redeployed at a later time.

Consequently, one problematic result of the Bush administration’s decision to not extend START I is that both the U.S. and Russia will lose one of the most reliable ways of making sure that both countries are meeting the required reductions under SORT. As I mentioned earlier, this decision has upset not only the U.S. intelligence community, but also Sens. Biden and Lugar, the leading senators on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Below is the full text of the letter Tauscher et. al sent to the President.

July 24, 2007

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to work with the Russian Federation to extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) after it expires in December 2009.

We were pleased that, in a joint statement issued July 3, 2007, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov reiterated the intention of the United States and Russia "to carry out strategic offensive reductions to the lowest possible level consistent with their national security requirements and alliance commitments." We are also pleased that both acknowledged the need for "a post-START arrangement to provide continuity and predictability regarding strategic offensive forces."

We are concerned however that both governments have not agreed to extend START in its current form and have just begun working on a post-START agreement. Without a legally binding follow-on agreement that includes a commitment to verifiable reductions in both countries' nuclear arsenals below the levels contained in SORT (Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions), the United States and Russia risk creating greater strategic uncertainty and further eroding the international nonproliferation regime. The continuing risk that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists coupled with the possibility that additional nations will consider developing nuclear weapons should compel the United States and Russia do everything within their power to reduce the global nuclear danger.

The START treaty, signed on July 31, 1991, imposed new limits on long range nuclear forces, and both Russia and the United States achieved those reductions by the required date of December 5, 2001. Under START, both countries reduced their deployed strategic nuclear forces from approximately 10,000 warheads each to no more than 6,000 apiece. The accord also limits each side to 1,600 delivery vehicles-ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers.

Yet the arms limits imposed by START are not the treaty's only enduring legacy. START also included a comprehensive verification regime, including formal data exchanges, notifications, and on-site inspections. The transparency required by the START verification regime has bred confidence in both Russia and the U.S. enabling cooperation on a range of nuclear arms issues. Moreover, verification directly supports U.S. national security interests by giving insight into Russia's arsenal of nuclear weapons. While changes to these verification measures may be appropriate, their core elements must be extended.

As your nominee for Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright, said in an interview last summer, "The attributes that you would seek [in a START extension] are transparency, the ability to generate warning time, and confidence in what the intentions are of a counterpart." General Cartwright also noted that if the verification measures could not be modified, they should remain in force, rather than be allowed to expire. We agree.

The START treaty requires the United States and Russia to begin discussions regarding the future of the treaty no later than one year prior to December 2009. Given this requirement, we are interested in better understanding the administration’s approach and request that you keep us fully informed regarding your plans and objectives. We also ask that the intelligence community provide the Congress with an assessment of our ability to monitor Russian nuclear forces in the absence of START.

We ask that you carefully consider extending START in its current form in order to enable your and President Putin's successors to negotiate a new legally binding agreement that achieves greater, verifiable reductions in each nation's nuclear forces.

Finally, we ask that you consult with Congress on your approach and on the framework that you develop.

Reducing the global nuclear danger is a legacy we all would like to achieve for the sake of our children and future generations. We stand ready to work with you to achieve this goal.


The following Members of Congress signed the letter authored by Rep. Ellen Tauscher:
Chairman Ike Skelton, Chairman John Conyers, Chairman Tom Lantos, Reps. John Spratt, Adam Smith, Yvette Clarke, Tom Allen, Barbara Lee, James McGovern, Dianne Watson, Ed Markey, Jesse Jackson, Sam Farr, Doris Matsui, Darlene Hooley, Tammy Baldwin, Betty McCollum, David Loebsack, Howard Berman, Raul Grijalva, Henry Waxman, Zoe Lofgren, Mike Honda, Maurice Hinchey, Joe Crowley, Lynn Woolsey, Rob Andrews, Ralph Hall, and David Wu.

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