Schlesinger Testimony A Big Boost To START Ratification

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"Schlesinger Testimony A Big Boost To START Ratification"

Schlesinger-Pentagon James Schlesinger, former Nixon CIA Director, Secretary of Defense under Nixon and Ford, and leading arms-control skeptic, endorsed the ratification of a new START treaty last week in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Schlesinger has long been a guiding light to the far right on nuclear policy issues. He fervently opposed the ratification of the CTBT in 1999 and was even against the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was ratified with bipartisan support. When Schlesinger speaks on nuclear policy, the right wing listens. Therefore, the effort to ratify START likely took a big step forward when Schlesinger said last week it was “obligatory for the US to ratify this treaty.”

As an arms-control skeptic and general foreign policy curmudgeon, Schlesinger expressed some doubts about the START treaty on balance, but he assessed that these concerns did not justify opposition to the treaty. CNAS’ Travis Sharp wrote at Nukes of Hazard:

Schlesinger authoritatively refuted arguments advanced by New START haters. Was Schlesinger effusive about the treaty? No. Did he raise potential concerns about it? Yes. But he also powerfully, if subtlety, rebutted several key criticisms of New START.

One of the main criticisms of the START treaty from conservatives has been that it does not deal with Russia’s thousands of tactical nuclear weapons that are worryingly vulnerable to terrorists looking to get their hands on nuclear weapons. While Schlesinger offered the same complaint about this START treaty and was skeptical about whether a more far-reaching follow-on treaty could be reached with Russia, he noted that to address Russia’s tactical nukes “there is no alternative” but to ratify START:

KERRY (D-MA): Based on your considerable experience in this field… leads you to make this conclusion that the step-by-step process is critical because you have to get this [New START] treaty in place and build on it in order to begin to address this further asymmetry [Russia's thousands of tactical nuclear weapons].

PERRY: That is my judgement

SCHLESINGER: I hope that you are right, Mr. Chairman.

Kerry: But What is the alternative?

SCHLESINGER. Oh, there’s no alternative. I hope that you are right that we have a further step. I don’t think the incentives the Russians have are very powerful.

Watch it:

In other words, in order to begin to address what is a major counter-terrorism concern – the danger of loose Russian tactical nukes falling into the hands of terrorists – we must ratify START.

Schlesinger also refuted other conservative arguments. He expressed “great confidence” in Secretary Gates’ approach to maintaining the nuclear arsenal. He called New START a platform to a wider arms-control effort and later in the hearing Schlesinger agreed with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), by saying that the “failure to ratify New START is detrimental to U.S. influence over other countries’ non-proliferation policies.” John Isaacs, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, noted in a press release that:

The Secretary’s endorsement for New START is a major breakthrough for its prospects for Senate approval, since at least eight Republican votes will be needed for advice and consent to ratify the treaty…Schlesinger is extremely influential within the Republican Party for his extensive experience and forceful positions on nuclear issues.

Conservative opposition to the START treaty in the Senate should now become exceedingly difficult. As opposition to the treaty, would put conservative Senators not just to the right, but to the far right of the conservative foreign policy establishment.

Transcript:

KERRY: But this [START treaty] is a precursor, is it not. I mean any effort to be able to get to that requires us to ratify this agreement.

SCHLESINGER: Yes. And I fervently hope it is a precursor.

KERRY: And so do I

KERRY (D-MA): Based on your considerable experience in this field… leads you to make this conclusion that the step-by-step process is critical because you have to get this [New START] treaty in place and build on it in order to begin to address this further asymmetry [Russia's thousands of tactical nuclear weapons].

PERRY: That is my judgement

SCHLESINGER: I hope that you are right, Mr. Chairman.

Kerry: But What is the alternative?

SCHLESINGER. Oh, there’s no alternative. I hope that you are right that we have a further step. I don’t think the incentives the Russians have are very powerful.

(On Nuclear Modernization)
LUGAR (R-IN): It would appear that Secretary Gates agrees with both of you and is asking for $5 billion in more money [for nuclear weapons modernization] to achieve these [a modernized arsenal]. I was wondering if either of you have been in consultation with Secretary Gates, whether you believe you are on the same wave length, what confidence you have in his leadership in this area?

SCHLESINGER: I have great confidence in Secretary Gates.

PERRY: I do to.

ISAKSON (R-GA): You still believe that this treaty does not compromise us and give us a platform to improve that [chances of further nuclear cooperation with Russia and China], is that what I heard you say?

SCHLESINGER: That is indeed correct. It provides us with a platform. Whether or not that platform turns out to be particularly useful in the final event is a question.

PERRY: I would put it slightly differently. This treaty is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for such cooperation.

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