By Arlen Specter
The U.S. Senate should ratify the New START treaty promptly. The objections raised by some Republicans are not sufficient to delay this latest, long-negotiated attempt to reduce nuclear arsenals in the United States and Russia.
It was President Ronald Reagan who made the phrase "Trust, but verify" the formula for acceptable arms control. New START provides for extensive verification and at the same time permits modernization of our nuclear forces. The Obama administration even added $4 billion for modernization to address the doubts of some senators.
This agreement does not compromise American security. It would preserve the relative nuclear strengths of each country, and if it changes the balance at all, it is slightly in favor of the United States.
Far from protecting the nation's security, as opponents of the treaty contend, a failure to ratify New START would jeopardize our safety. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "The United States is far better off with this treaty than without it. It strengthens the security of the United States and our allies and promotes strategic stability between the world's two major nuclear powers."
For two generations now, American presidents have chosen nuclear arms control agreements over the Cold War's Orwellian truce of "mutually assured destruction." In that spirit, as long ago as 1982, I introduced a Senate resolution urging Reagan to call a summit with leaders of the Soviet Union on reducing the risk of nuclear war by decreasing and controlling nuclear arsenals.
Since then, the Senate has overwhelmingly favored nuclear arms control, ratifying previous nuclear accords with Russia by landslide margins. START I, in 1992, was approved by a vote of 93-6; START II, in 1996, by a vote of 87-4; and the Moscow Treaty, in 2003, by a vote of 98-0.
If the Senate does not approve New START, it will undermine U.S. reliability at a time when we are calling on other nations to assist us in disputes that could lead to military conflict: Russia in the case of Iran; China in the case of North Korea; and India in the case of Pakistan. We need to show that we can live up to our international obligations and expectations without being hindered by domestic politics.
Failure to ratify this treaty would also impede the United States' ability to preach nuclear restraint and nonproliferation to other nations. Rogue states such as Iran and North Korea would use our rejection of the treaty to justify their own pursuit of bombs and missiles to deliver them. And other states will be far less likely to exercise restraint if the United States is unwilling to show restraint itself.
Reagan recognized that there can be no winner in a nuclear war. And 47 years ago, in a speech at American University, President John F. Kennedy called for a treaty to outlaw nuclear arms tests as the first step in efforts to halt the spread of nuclear arms, saying, "It would increase our security; it would decrease the prospects of war. Surely this goal is sufficiently important to require our steady pursuit, yielding neither to the temptation to give up the whole effort nor the temptation to give up our insistence on vital and responsible safeguards."
New START meets these conditions, and the Senate has a duty and obligation to ratify it before this Congress adjourns. Leaving the task to the new Congress would only make ratification less likely.