TOPICS > Politics

Senators Debate Road to Ratification of Arms Deal

April 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
Loading the player...
With the Senate poised to act on the renewed nuclear arms treaty between the U.S. and Russia, Jim Lehrer talks to two key senators, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Arizona Republican Jon Kyl.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Now to the treaty and the views of two members of the U.S. Senate. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, she chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, is the minority whip of the Senate.

I spoke to them a short time ago.

Senators, welcome.

Senator Kyl, do you support the ratification of this treaty?

SEN. JON KYL, R-Ariz., minority whip: Well, it’s a little early to say. I haven’t read it yet. And it’s complete with hundreds of pages of annexes, which obviously are the operational details.

We will want to review all of that, have constructive discussions with the administration officials in charge of implementing it, and then, obviously, talk to experts, have hearings and debate in the Senate.

And there’s one other factor that will bear on my support for this treaty, and that is the modernization plan that the president must submit to the Congress to help take care of our nuclear weapons complex and our nuclear deterrent. Those two things go hand in hand.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Feinstein, what is your position on the treaty at this point?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.: I very much support it.

Both Senator Kyl and I, in November, went to Geneva. We met with the American negotiation team headed by Rose Gottemoeller, and with the Russian team headed by Ambassador Antonov. We had an opportunity to discuss various aspects, such as verification, different kinds of weapons systems.

And, so, since then, I have certainly been following it. The — it’s a 17-page treaty, so it isn’t too long. Read it this morning. I think it’s a step forward. I think people have to remember that the START treaty that was in effect went out of effect in December. There is no treaty today. There are no restrictions today. There is no verification today.

And, absent a treaty, there will be nothing. Essentially, what this treaty does is seek to reduce warheads by 30 percent over Moscow treaty levels and launch vehicles by 50 percent over START levels. It is a step forward.

In terms of arms control, it certainly is not the sun, the moon, and the stars. But what it aims to do is begin a level of trust and confidence-building between two powerful nations, nations which have never been fighting enemies, but which, in fact, have in the past been adversaries.

And, so, to change that adversarial relationship, to build the trust and build the confidence, and also, over time, seek to reduce what are huge, huge still, and very large nuclear weapons, I think, is a significant step forward.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Kyl, conceptually, do you disagree with what Senator Feinstein just laid out as to why she supports it at this point?

SEN. JON KYL: First of all, it’s not like we have been adversaries for the last many years. We have been working with each other, verifying the old START treaty. It’s not as if, all of a sudden, we have to begin doing this with the Russians.

Secondly, the real threat, as the president said a couple days ago when he announced the NPR, is proliferation of nuclear weapons and the terrorism that…

JIM LEHRER: That’s the nuclear — explain what the NPR is.

SEN. JON KYL: Nuclear posture…

SEN. JON KYL: … nuclear posture review.

JIM LEHRER: It’s not a public radio network.

SEN. JON KYL: No.

JIM LEHRER: No.

SEN. JON KYL: The nuclear posture review.

And, as the president pointed out, the real threat today is proliferation and terrorism. This treaty, of course, doesn’t have anything to do with that.

Third, I think you have to examine three documents together: the nuclear posture review and many of the presidential intentions as expressed in there, like when we would use our nuclear weapons and how we’re going to modernize them; second, the START treaty itself; and, third, the document that I referred to earlier, which is the plan that the president must submit that details how we will modernize both the facilities, the Manhattan Project-era facilities that are now very old and aging, and the weapons themselves, so that we will have a credible deterrent in years to come.

JIM LEHRER: So, Senator Kyl, would it be correct, then, to state that your position going in is one of concerns, and you are — you’re not a sure vote for this; is that correct?

SEN. JON KYL: Well, I can tell you this, that I think the Senate will find it very hard to support this treaty if there is not a robust modernization plan as called for by Section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act of last year.

That, I think, is a sine qua non. And, then, with respect to the treaty itself, I know colleagues are going to want to look at the missile defense issues and verification issues, as well as the numbers themselves. On the missile defense part, we were thrown a bit of a curveball, it seems. And I know colleagues have expressed some interest in that.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

The — we will come back to missile defense in a moment.

But, Senator Feinstein, does modernization, the — well, you heard what Senator Kyl said. Do you share that concern?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: No, I do not. It all depends upon what you mean by modernization.

If you mean changing some of the chemicals that are now in the nuclear warheads to make those — make the warheads safer for workers, that’s one thing. If it means building new nuclear warheads, that’s another thing. If it means building new bunker-busters or tactical nuclear weapons under five kilotons, that’s another thing, too.

I actually think it’s a mistake to mix the two together. The point is this. We have nothing now. This is a step forward. You have had all of our military people say it doesn’t affect our military prowess. You have both presidents, Medvedev and Obama, saying that this is what they want to do to begin to work together as two nations.

I think that’s an enormous step forward, because the adversaries that we face in the future are not — is not going to be Russia, in my judgment. It’s going to be asymmetric actors. It’s — it’s the building of a nuclear weapon by Iran. It’s North Korea.

And, here, help from Russia, a partnership with Russia, could be very important and significant. So, I’m for developing better relations. I’m for seeing that we get a treaty in place. And, as — as I’m sure Jon knows, there’s seven years before the reductions in the treaty have to be in place.

And during that period of time, particularly within five years, there will be other negotiations on the next step forward. This is an easy step to take, it seems to me. We have got everybody for it, all our defense establishment, the administration. It’s an easy step to take. And I believe we should take it, and do so promptly.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t see it as an easy step, Senator Kyl, I say — I take it?

SEN. JON KYL: Well, I’m just saying there is a connection between this treaty and the modernization program.

As Senator Feinstein said, we are dramatically reducing the number of both launch vehicles and weapons. And when you get down to a relative few, you have got to make sure that they will do what they’re intended to do.

There are 31 other countries that rely on our nuclear deterrent as well. So, it has to be credible. And, as Secretary Gates himself has said, and as the Perry-Schlesinger commission recommended, we’re going to have to test our weapons, unless we develop a new modernization program.

And we are not talking about developing new weapons, bunker-busters, or anything of that sort. But we are talking about making sure that these weapons that were never designed to last for 20 or 30 or 40 years can be extended, that their lifetime can be extended, and that they will both be secure and safe and reliable in that, when we intend them to go off, they will, in fact, do that.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Kyl, pick up on the earlier statement that you think you were thrown a curve on missile defense. What do you mean?

SEN. JON KYL: Well, the — we were told repeatedly that the preamble would say that there’s a connection between missile defenses and strategic offensive weapons — and that is true — it’s simply a tautology — and that that would be it in the treaty.

But it turns out that there is another section that actually defines several terms relating to missile defense, including missile defense launchers, and says specifically that we cannot use any of the offensive strategic systems if we retire them for missile defense programs.

That’s a limitation that some within the defense establishment say we really weren’t going to take advantage of anyway. But it does limit our actions in doing so.

And my only point there was that — and the Russians are very insistent that the treaty actually provides a legal, binding link between missile defenses and strategic offensive weapons. To the extent that that could cause a president in the future to pull back from some development of new missile defense technology or deployment thereof, just because the Russians say they’re going to pull out of the treaty if we do that, that’s troubling.

JIM LEHRER: Is that a deal-breaker or just troubling?

SEN. JON KYL: It’s troubling. I think, as I said, all of these things go hand in hand.

And my only point was that it will be more difficult for the Senate to pass the treaty if, for example, the modernization program is not approved and funded by the Congress and some of these other questions aren’t at least answered.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Feinstein, clearly, we’re not going to be able to negotiate this right here now, the details. But just overview, looking at it from your perspective, do you see this could be trouble in terms of getting this ratified?

I have looked at the record. There’s never been a START treaty that wasn’t ratified. It takes 67 votes in the United States Senate. Not going to do it without Republican votes. What’s your reading of it at this point?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: If any treaty should be able to be ratified, it is this treaty. This treaty is a step forward. It is not a giant step forward. It doesn’t in any way, shape, or form incapacitate the offensive or defensive position of this country.

So, I have a very hard time. I would really hope that members wouldn’t hold the treaty hostage to, “If you don’t do this.”

We all believe that our nuclear weapons should be safe. I have spent a lot of time on this, because I happen to sit on the Energy Appropriations Subcommittee, that provides the money for this kind of thing. And what I have found is that our weapons are safe, and they do not need testing, and that the whole purpose of the National Ignition Facility was to avoid testing.

And so I believe that we can go a substantial period of time — and, by that, I mean decades — before the nuclear weapons are in any kind of, you might say, less-than-safe position.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: And during this period of time, I think the point is that we should look at the replacement of certain items. And that will certainly be done.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Let me ask…

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Mr. D’Agostino, who heads the Nuclear Security Administration, is very good on this.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I have had a number of classified briefings.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: And we will work together with him to try to see that we do the right thing. But…

JIM LEHRER: As I say, we can’t — we can’t go through all the details.

I just wanted to get back to Senator Kyl before we end our time here.

Do you — do you think it’s conceivable, Senator Kyl, that this thing could be not ratified, could be rejected by the United States Senate?

SEN. JON KYL: Again, my inclination is that, if you take all three documents together, the national posture review, the modernization plan yet to be submitted and yet to be approved by the Congress, and the START treaty, we can evaluate them all together.

And it is possible that all three of them could represent positive steps, with the ultimate end that the START treaty could be ratified. If, on the other hand, the modernization program is not adequate or the Congress chooses not to adequately fund it, then it could be trouble.

JIM LEHRER: Right. OK. We will leave it right there.

Senators, thank you both very much.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.

SEN. JON KYL: Thank you.