The ink on the nuclear arms treaty signed in Prague by President Obama and Russian President Medvedev was barely dry before some senators warned they may vote against ratification for reasons that in fact have nothing to do with the treaty. This makes no sense.
The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is a sensible effort to roll back the nuclear threat, in the tradition of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. It is a modest step forward, not a giant one. It calls for cutting deployed nuclear warheads by 30 percent, to 1,550 each, and launch vehicles -- such as missile silos and submarine tubes -- by more than 50 percent, to 800 each.
These reductions in the new START agreement will not erode America's nuclear capabilities, strategic deterrent, or national defense. In fact, the reductions don't have to be completed until the treaty's seventh year -- plenty of time for a prudent draw-down.
But while its terms are modest, its impact would be broad. The new START agreement will:
By any measure, this is a good treaty, and it should be ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma.
So it's disheartening to hear some in the Senate suggest they may hold this treaty hostage to additional, unnecessary conditions.
Make no mistake: This treaty will be carefully vetted. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has begun a series of hearings that will examine the treaty, and will report to the Senate. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which I chair, will hold hearings into how its terms will be monitored. And the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on its impact on our nuclear posture and national defense.
I am confident a powerful case for ratification will be made. So far, critics have relied on two general, unsupported claims:
Their report said that through such programs, "Lifetimes of today's nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence..."
Meantime, the Defense and Energy secretaries have certified the nuclear stockpile as "safe and secure" every year for the past 14.
More needs to be done. President Obama is committed to providing the resources to ensure a safe, secure and effective arsenal for as long as we have nuclear weapons. His Fiscal 2011 budget asks for $11.2 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration, a 13.4 percent increase over the Fiscal 2010 budget.
Against these facts, the red flags raised by some in the Senate start to look more like red herrings.
In reality, the one thing that could make us more vulnerable is the failure to ratify this agreement. START I expired in December. Without a new treaty, we'd lack the means to inspect and monitor Russia's nuclear forces and warheads. We'd lose the transparency that exists between our nations. Russia would be free to produce and hide more warheads, missiles, and submarines. The trust built through recent negotiations would be squandered.
If any treaty should be ratified, it is this one. It should be an easy step for the Senate to take, a step that should be taken promptly.
Senator Feinstein is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.