WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and six other Democratic leaders on national security issues, today raised concerns over the Trump Administration’s nuclear strategy and the overall direction of its arms control agenda. In a letter to President Trump, the lawmakers called on the Administration to better protect our nation’s arms control architecture by extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), a rigorous post-Cold War nuclear arms control agreement expiring in the coming years that was designed to ensure limits on Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Joining Menendez and Engel in writing the letter were Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense; and Representatives Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; and Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
“Without the limitations imposed by New START, Russia will be able to rapidly increase the size of its nuclear arsenal, forcing the United States to undertake a costly and unnecessary expansion of our own nuclear triad in order to maintain strategic stability,” wrote the lawmakers. “The treaty limits Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal and provides U.S. military planners with critically important transparency and predictability. Unfortunately, by reducing State Department staffing and funding for treaty implementation and withdrawing from other arms controls agreements that have retained bipartisan support in Congress, your Administration has undermined the important role arms control measures play in enhancing U.S. security.”
In addition to requesting the extension of New START through 2026, the lawmakers listed a series of specific questions meant to clarify the Administration’s policy with regard to international nuclear arms control.
“Maintaining a safe, strong, and reliable nuclear deterrent is a job for both the legislative and executive branches of government. Pursuing this goal while managing risks through a meaningful arms control agenda is vital. We look forward to working with you on one of the Nation’s top defense priorities,” concluded the members.
A copy of the letter can be found here and below:
We write to express our deep concern at the current direction of your Administration’s arms control agenda. Nuclear arms control has been a critical element of our national security policies for decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations and is integral in shaping our nuclear force capabilities and posture. When the United States initiated its nuclear modernization program ten years ago, Congress made it clear that these investments would go hand-in-hand with sensible arms control measures such as the New START Treaty.
The United States pursues verifiable arms control measures as part of our nuclear strategy because they enhance U.S. national security. New START is a fundamental aspect of this arms control architecture. The treaty limits Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal and provides U.S. military planners with critically important transparency and predictability. Unfortunately, by reducing State Department staffing and funding for treaty implementation and withdrawing from other arms controls agreements that have retained bipartisan support in Congress, your Administration has undermined the important role arms control measures play in enhancing U.S. security. New START in particular strengthens our security through robust verification measures and legally binding numerical limitations on strategic delivery systems and warheads. We believe that a decision to forego the benefits of New START by failing to extend the agreement would be a serious mistake for strategic stability and U.S. security, and urge you to negotiate the full extension of New START through 2026, as permitted by the Treaty.
A failure to extend New START will have lasting consequences on the United States’ ability to contain the Russian nuclear threat and properly shape U.S. nuclear forces. The U.S. strategic deterrent, as stated in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), envisions the United States staying within the Treaty’s central limits. Without the limitations imposed by New START, Russia will be able to rapidly increase the size of its nuclear arsenal, forcing the United States to undertake a costly and unnecessary expansion of our own nuclear triad in order to maintain strategic stability. Certainly, we are clear-eyed about the threat posed by Russia as it continues to modernize its military, pursue primacy on its periphery and beyond, and operate in unpredictable ways, including the development of new types of nuclear systems that fall outside the purview of the treaty. That is why we believe it is critical to maintain New START’s limits on Russia’s nuclear forces to help avoid a costly and unnecessary arms race.
Failing to extend the Treaty will also prevent U.S. inspectors, military professionals, and intelligence analysts from having current, accurate information on Russia’s nuclear forces. Attempting to collect this information without the Treaty’s data exchanges, notifications, and inspection rights will be extremely costly and inevitably less precise. At a recent Senate hearing, the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, General Hyten, described the insight that the Treaty provides him as “unbelievably important to me.”
Failure to extend New START will also close off one of the last mutually beneficial avenues of cooperation between the two countries which hold 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. In addition, our closest allies have stated that New START’s restrictions on the Russian nuclear arsenal are important for their security. If we expect allies to spend more on defense and contribute to U.S. deterrence planning, a prudent arms control agenda is vital. NATO’s position, in the wake of INF withdrawal, is clear: “Allies are firmly committed to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation.”
In recent testimony, Administration officials have noted that the New START Treaty does not cover all potential Russian nuclear weapons. We are also aware of recent reporting stating the Administration is initiating an effort aimed at bringing both China and Russia into new arms control talks. Such engagement, if true, is a positive development and we ask that the Administration provide regular and full briefings on both the deliberations and what such an agreement might contain. If you believe a “better deal” than the New START Treaty is possible, we ask that the Administration provide details to Congress on what such an agreement might involve, why you believe Russia would agree to it, and why the Senate should ratify it.
We are well aware of the difficulties other administrations have faced in expanding the scope of arms control negotiations with Russia and inducing China to join strategic arms control talks. Given that China’s arsenal is about a tenth the size of the United States and Russia’s, China’s leaders have consistently expressed little interest in arms control discussions, and Russia since Putin came into office has resisted including additional issues such as its non-strategic nuclear systems in new agreements. Furthermore, we are aware that Russia has its own set of strategic goals, such as placing limitations on U.S. regional and national missile defense systems, which it will seek to include in any new accord.
Given the challenges inherent to reaching new agreements with Russia and China, we strongly believe the limitations and verification measures of New START must remain in place while any such negotiation occurs. Any new agreements the United States is able to reach should add onto our existing arms control architecture, not subtract from it.
Maintaining a safe, strong, and reliable nuclear deterrent is a job for both the legislative and executive branches of government. Pursuing this goal while managing risks through a meaningful arms control agenda is vital. We look forward to working with you on one of the Nation’s top defense priorities.
To help us move forward together, we respectfully request responses to the questions below by June 15, 2019: