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| May 13, 2010
The Case for the New START Treaty
By Robert M. Gates
The Wall Street Journal
Opinion Editorial -
I first began working on strategic arms control with the Russians in 1970, an effort that led to the first Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement with Moscow two years later.
The key question then and in the decades since has always been the same: Is the United States better off with an agreement or without it? The answer for each successive president has always been "with an agreement. " The U.S. Senate has always agreed, approving each treaty by lopsided, bipartisan margins.
The same answer holds true for the New START agreement: The U.S. is far better off with this treaty than without it. It strengthens the security of the U.S. and our allies and promotes strategic stability between the world's two major nuclear powers. The treaty accomplishes these goals in several ways.
First, it limits significantly U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals and establishes an extensive verification regime to ensure that Russia is complying with its treaty obligations. These include short-notice inspections of both deployed and nondeployed systems, verification of the numbers of warheads actually carried on Russian strategic missiles, and unique identifiers that will help us track""for the very first time""all accountable strategic nuclear delivery systems.
Since the expiration of the old START Treaty in December 2009, the U.S. has had none of these safeguards. The new treaty will put them back in place, strengthen many of them, and create a verification regime that will provide for greater transparency and predictability between our two countries, to include substantial visibility into the development of Russian nuclear forces.
Second, the treaty preserves the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a vital pillar of our nation's and our allies' security posture. Under this treaty, the U.S. will maintain our powerful nuclear triad""ICBMs, submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and bombers""and we will retain the ability to change our force mix as we see fit. Based on recommendations of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we plan to meet the Treaty's limits by retaining a triad of up to 420 ICBMs, 14 submarines carrying up to 240 SLBMs, and up to 60 nuclear-capable heavy bombers.
Third, and related, the treaty is buttressed by credible modernization plans and long-term funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and the infrastructure that supports it. This administration is proposing to spend $80 billion over the next decade to rebuild and sustain America's aging nuclear infrastructure""especially our national weapons labs, and our science, technology and engineering base. This week the president is providing a report to the Congress on investments planned over the next 10 years to sustain and modernize our nuclear weapons, their delivery systems, and supporting infrastructure.
Fourth, the treaty will not constrain the U.S. from developing and deploying defenses against ballistic missiles, as we have made clear to the Russian government. The U.S. will continue to deploy and improve the interceptors that defend our homeland""those based in California and Alaska. We are also moving forward with plans to field missile defense systems to protect our troops and partners in Europe, the Middle East, and Northeast Asia against the dangerous threats posed by rogue nations like North Korea and Iran.
Finally, the treaty will not restrict America's ability to develop and deploy conventional prompt global strike capabilities""that is, the ability to hit targets anywhere in the world in less than an hour using conventional explosive warheads fitted to long-range missiles.
These delivery systems""be they land or sea based""would count against the new treaty limits, but if we deploy them it would be in very limited numbers. We are currently assessing other kinds of long-range strike systems that would not count under the treaty.
The New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America's military leadership""to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of the service chiefs, and the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, the organization responsible for our strategic nuclear deterrent. For nearly 40 years, treaties to limit or reduce nuclear weapons have been approved by the U.S. Senate by strong bipartisan majorities. This treaty deserves a similar reception and result""on account of the dangerous weapons it reduces, the critical defense capabilities it preserves, the strategic stability it maintains, and, above all, the security it provides to the American people.
Mr. Gates is secretary of defense.