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A Fresh START? Future of Arms Treaty Uncertain

The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is a nuclear arms reduction treaty that follows the expired START I, the START II, and the 2002 Treaty of Moscow. President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev signed the bilateral Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation on April 8, 2010 in Prague. Now the United States Senate must ratify the treaty for it to take effect–a move that seems uncertain. Ratification requires 67 out of 100 Senate votes, including at least eight Republicans, and the upcoming midterm elections may affect whether START will secure the necessary votes.

This new Treaty resulted from an unsuccessful START III negotiation process. The structure of the Treaty is in three tiers: the first tier is the text itself; the second consists of the additional rights and obligations associated with the provisions of the treaty; and finally, the third tier is the technical annexes to the second tier’s Protocol. The Treaty seeks strategic offensive reductions, with the United States and Russia limited to significantly fewer strategic arms within the seven years following the enforcement date of the Treaty. START will endure for ten years, unless there is a subsequent mutual agreement for a maximum five years extension. Pending approval from the United States Senate and the Russian legislature, the new Treaty will terminate the 2002 Moscow Treaty.

The ratification of the New START Treaty in the U.S. Senate is a significant concern. Senate Republicans are hesitant to support the treaty and several Democratic senators are expected to leave the Senate after midterm elections in November. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has asked for the Senate to vote during the “lame-duck session,” but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would most likely not allow a vote until there are enough verified votes to favor ratification. As midterm elections come up on November 2, the Senate candidates’ stands on arms control are now an important issue in the elections. If the vote on the New START Treaty is pushed into 2011, it will become even more difficult to secure the potentially increased minimum number of GOP supporters necessary for ratification.

That is not to say that every Democrat in the Senate is in favor of the Treaty, adding to the administration’s concerns over the Senate vote. While the reduction of nuclear weapons is not on its face a problem for opponents to the Treaty, the real cause for those Senators’ hesitation is the adequacy of the United States’ missile defense program. With national security a continuing area of importance, START has sparked questions about whether the talks between the United States and Russia would result in an agreement about missile defense that would limit the U.S.’s ability to defend itself. As the debate continues, the future of this vote and the enforcement of the Treaty remains until the newly-elected Senators take their places and address the pros and cons of entering a nuclear arms reduction agreement at this time.

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