The White House said today that President Obama will press for quick Senate approval of the START-2 treaty with Russia. The agreement calls for the U-S and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals by about 30 percent. Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with Matthew Bunn of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, about the politics around the pact. Download MP3
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Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins, and this is ‘The World.’ Today the White House said that President Obama will press for quick Senate approval of the START II Treaty with Russia. That agreement calls for the US and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals by about 30%. It’s a top Obama foreign policy objective, but it needs Senate approval to become a reality. And a key Republican senator this week came out against quick ratification during the current lame-duck session of the outgoing Congress. Matthew Bunn is with the Project on Managing the Atom in the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. First, Matthew, lay out what’s at stake for Americans here.
Matthew Bunn: Well, I think this treaty and getting it ratified now and not later is very important for American security, for Russian security and actually for world security. In particular, people may not realize that there have been no inspections at all of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons that may be aimed at us for coming up on a year now, since the START Treaty expired. And one of the very important functions of this treaty is to get those inspections going again. To have on-site inspectors, on the ground, keeping an eye on what Russia is doing with its strategic nuclear weapons.
Mullins: If the United States isn’t there checking Russia’s silos, are other countries there?
Bunn: No. Those inspections were only bilateral between the United States and Russia. And of course the treaty also results in real reductions in Russian nuclear weapons and in US nuclear weapons. And that’s an important thing for US national security. It’s also very important to the overall reset of relations with Russia that President Obama has been trying to accomplish, to get on to a more cooperative footing on nuclear matters with Russia, which is very important to our ability to address issues like Iran’s nuclear program or security for nuclear material, and making sure that the essential ingredients of nuclear bombs don’t fall into terrorist hands.
Mullins: What about those who are against. There is significant opposition coming from a particular Republican; that’s Senator John Kyl, who is urging the Senate to wait until the lame-duck session is over. So wait until it reconvenes again, because he said that the US nuclear weaponry has to be modernized in the remaining arsenal. Is there a point to be made there?
Bunn: Well, certainly there is a need for modernization, particularly of the nuclear weapons complex in the United States, and the Obama Administration has been negotiating with Senator Kyl, who is the number two Republican in the Republican leadership in the Senate. The administration has been negotiating with Senator Kyl for months, and has put in place a plan for some $84 billion of investment over the next ten years in the kind of modernization that Senator Kyl is talking about. And frankly, Kyl’s position now, putting the treaty at risk also puts all of that modernization potentially at risk.
Mullins: So what does indeed happen then if it doesn’t get ratified during this lame-duck session?
Bunn: Well, then obviously the Administration will have to push forward for the next session, but the reality is more and more time will slip away when there is no inspections taking place between the United States and Russia, and it really calls into question US leadership on nuclear weapons and on nuclear non-proliferation. The reality is the global effort to stem the spread of nuclear weapons is based on a fundamental bargain: the states without nuclear weapons agree not to acquire them and to accept inspections if the states with nuclear weapons negotiate in good faith toward nuclear disarmament and provide access to nuclear power technology. But the reality is that this would call into question whether the United States really is moving forward in good faith on its treat obligation to pursue disarmament.
Mullins: Because what the US and Russia do, others follow.
Bunn: Well, the United States and Russia have some 95% of all the nuclear weapons that exist in the world. So what they do is crucially important.
Mullins: Matthew Bunn with the Project on Managing the Atom in the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Thank you, Matthew.
Bunn: Thank you.
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