TOPICS > Politics

Can New START Treaty Survive Partisan Divide in Congress?

November 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
Loading the player...
Margaret Warner looks into the U.S. political battle over whether to ratify a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia. She talks to two experts in such negotiations: Richard Burt, chief U.S. negotiator during the START talks in 1991, and James Woolsey, director of the CIA under the Clinton administration.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: For more on all this, we turn to two men who’ve negotiated arms deals with the Russians. Richard Burt was the chief U.S. negotiator for the START-1 treaty with the former Soviet Union in 1991. He’s an international consultant and also chairman of Global Zero, a group seeking to rid the world of nuclear weapons. And Jim Woolsey was the chief U.S. negotiator during the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty signed in 1990. He was director of the CIA during the Clinton administration.

And welcome to you both. Rick Burt, beginning with you, how much of a setback is what Senator Kyl said yesterday to the prospects of getting this treaty ratified?

RICHARD BURT, former negotiator, U.S. Arms Control: Well, I think it’s potentially a very serious setback. And I think the danger is that, if the treaty is pushed into the new Congress, that it will take potentially several months and maybe longer to be ratified. It could be indefinitely postponed.

And I think there — it becomes then a hostage to events. So, I think that — that the lame-duck session is the best opportunity to get this treaty ratified, with the least amount of political damage to the U.S.-Russia relationship and the credibility of the United States worldwide.

MARGARET WARNER: Jim Woolsey, what is your view of the impact of what Senator Kyl did yesterday?

JAMES WOOLSEY, former negotiator, U.S. Arms Control: I see it differently.

I think it gives the Senate, including the Senate that was just elected in January, an opportunity to get into the details of the treaty, to understand the negotiating history, to see what needs to be done, or to make sure that we don’t cripple our ability to deploy ballistic missile defenses, in order to make sure that we get accurate guarantees from the president about modernizing our strategic offensive nuclear forces.

And I don’t think you can do that in the very few days of hectic activity that is a lame-duck session. It’s why, as far as I’m aware, no defense treaty, no arms control treaty has ever been approved by the Senate during a lame-duck session.

It’s a crazy quilt kind of period in Washington. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be taken up in January, with some careful and thorough work by the Senate and the administration in the meantime to get some of these guarantee clear. So, I see it very differently than Rick.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Burt, let me pick up — and Senator Kyl said the same. He particularly pointed to modernization, and said there wasn’t enough time to resolve the thorny issues there.

First of all, what’s he talking about? And, secondly, does he have a point?

RICHARD BURT: OK. Really, two or three quick points.

First of all, Jim suggests, in a way, that if it went to a lame-duck session, that the treaty really hasn’t been examined carefully. And it clearly has. There have been over 20 briefings of the Congress, of the Senate on the treaty. There have been over 900 questions answered. In fact, this treaty has undergone as much examination as the treaty I helped negotiate in 1991.

And it’s interesting that Senator Kyl is focusing on nuclear modernization, rather than potential pitfalls in the treaty itself, because I think most of the arguments against the treaty are essentially bogus.

And what Senator Kyl is focusing on is the question of whether or not we are spending enough on our nuclear weapons complex to keep it safe, reliable, secure, and effective.

And, here, I think the administration — and I’m not a spokesman for the administration, but I think they have clearly walked the extra mile to deal with Senator Kyl’s concerns. They are talking about spending $80 billion on the infrastructure that actually makes nuclear weapons, not the missiles or bombers or so-called delivery vehicles, but the weapons themselves, that — that ensures that they continue to be reliable and effective.

And they’re talking about $80 billion over 10 years, and adding another $4 billion in the coming year to ensure that the nuclear weapons labs and the country’s infrastructure is capable of maintaining our nuclear stockpile.

And I have to say that, again, not speaking for the administration, but this is a much larger amount of money than was spent by the previous administration on the nuclear weapons complex.

MARGARET WARNER: What about that, Jim Woolsey? I mean, that sounds like a lot of money.

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, $80 billion is a lot of money. It about what the U.S. intelligence community spends in one year, so you’re talking about spreading that over — that or slightly more over 10 years.

The problem is that our nuclear laboratory and production and design complexes for nuclear weapons have fallen into disrepair and need a lot of extra work. And that on the offensive side and the ballistic missile defense work on the defensive side are extremely important, in part because of the inadequacies of the treaty.

The treaty negotiators gave up a good deal in terms of verification, not getting on-site inspection of the Russian principal ballistic missile production facility, the way they had under the original START, not getting the ability to inspect non-declared sites, et cetera.

And those inadequacies in verification can’t really be fixed without going back to square one and renegotiating the treaty. Senator Kyl hasn’t asked for that. What he’s asked for is a careful and thorough cooperation between the Senate, as it will come into office in January, and the administration on our — maintaining our offensive forces and our defensive forces.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me step back in the remaining time we have, which is, if you look at the START-1 treaty, which you negotiated, Mr. Burt, approved, I think it was, 93-6, and the Moscow treaty that under the Bush 43 administration, something like, I don’t know, 95-0, why has this become so politicized, so controversial and politicized?

RICHARD BURT: Well, again, I don’t think it’s because of problems with the treaty. Jim talks about ballistic missile defense.

The — there are no constraints on this administration or any future administration’s options for developing ballistic missile defense. The language in the treaty which is in the preamble is exactly the same as in the language in the treaty I negotiated and previous administrations negotiated.

Why is it getting so politicized? Well, first of all — and, here, I can say this as a Republican — this is the first time a Democratic administration has sought to get ratification for a strategic arms treaty. And I think that is a — it makes — creates a difficult dilemma for Republicans.

It’s hard for Republicans to oppose a Republican administration’s treaty, particularly in the current hyper-partisan and polarized atmosphere in Washington. I think it’s much easier for Republicans to oppose this administration.

But, in thinking about the problem of ratification or non-ratification, we have to look at the consequences of what happens if this treaty goes down. We lose the verification system that has already lapsed under the treaty that I negotiated. We — we miss the opportunity to improve relations with the Russians, who have supported us on Iran and U.N. sanctions and increasingly in Afghanistan. And we become — we lose all credibility on the problem of stopping nuclear proliferation.

Margaret, there are only two governments in the world that wouldn’t like to see this treaty ratified, the government in Tehran and the government in North Korea.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, a brief final word from you, Mr. Woolsey, and do address, if you would, the point that Rick Burt just made about why he thinks this treaty is having a harder time with Republicans than former treaties did with Democrats.

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, the whole atmosphere of Washington is much more sour now than it has been at some times in the past.

But the may to make it sourer is for the administration to try to ram this treaty through in a lame-duck session, rather than working carefully with the incoming Senate, which will have a few more Republicans in it, and to satisfy 67 senators that they are doing a thorough and good job of looking at the treaty — negotiating record of the treaty carefully, remembering all of the problems we had with the narrow vs. broad interpretation of the ABM Treaty and the rest, and getting this set up in such a way that people are confident across the political spectrum that the treaty has not interfered and will not interfere with our ability to deploy ballistic missile defenses and our ability to modernize adequately our strategic offensive forces.

They haven’t done that yet. And, once they do that, if they can with — and they — it may take more resources than what they are now talking about — it may take some changes to our ballistic missile defense program. If they satisfy the Senate, the incoming Senate, of that, then they have a reasonable chance of having a bipartisan approach toward this treaty and toward strategic policy in general.

If they try to ram this through in their lame-duck session, they have got a real fight on their hands.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen, thank you. We have to leave it there, Jim Woolsey, Richard Burt.

RICHARD BURT: Thank you.

JAMES WOOLSEY: Thank you, Margaret.