Statement Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee On the New Start Treaty

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member Lugar. It is a pleasure to meet again with this Committee, whose membership has substantially turned over since I last testified before it.

Let me begin by placing the treaty into the context of arms control issues as they have evolved in the half-century that I have dealt with them. I consulted in the Kennedy administration during discussions on Berlin and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in the 1960s. As National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, I participated in the negotiations of several arms control agreements in the 1970s. In various advisory capacities and as a concerned citizen ever since, I have advocated both arms control measures as well as a strong national defense.

The subject of nuclear arms control grew out of the seemingly paradoxical effort of those who had created the largest and most destructive arsenals to avoid by negotiation the ultimate consequences of their own decisions. The advent of nuclear weapons and other instruments of mass destruction causes strategy to be conducted at the edge of an abyss from which, should we fall into it, there may be no return. An increasing familiarity with the implications of modern weapons technology has generated a growing desire to mitigate its consequences to the greatest extent compatible with our security.

A number of objectives characterize these negotiations: to reduce or eliminate the danger of war by miscalculation, which requires transparency of design and deployment; to bring about the maximum stability in the balance of forces to reduce incentives for nuclear war by design, especially by reducing incentives for surprise attack; to overcome the danger of accidents fostered by the automaticity of the new technology. All these measures combined might, if successful, merge into a strategy that would reduce or limit—and, in the end, perhaps eliminate—the use of these weapons as a conscious choice.

In the last decade, there have emerged two vast additional dangers that profoundly affect the way we think of weapons of mass destruction and arms control: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the consequent danger that non-state groups might acquire some of these weapons.

The treaty before this Committee is the latest of a series of measures seeking to control strategic arms going back to the 1970s when the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons were limited in the so-called SALT agreements. The treaty before this Committee is an evolution of the START treaties begun in the Reagan administration and elaborated by its successors of both parties. It is, as I shall argue, probably the last agreement on strategic arms that can be made without taking tactical nuclear weapons into account. It is also approaching the end of what can be achieved by bilateral negotiations on the subject between the United States and Russia. Growing existing arsenals and proliferation will soon impose a multilateral context.

The current agreement is a modest step forward stabilizing American and Russian arsenals at a slightly reduced level. It provides a measure of transparency; it reintroduces many verification measures that lapsed with the expiration of the last START agreement; it encourages what the Obama administration has described as the reset of political relations with Russia; it may provide potential benefits in dealing with the issue of proliferation.

I have not had an opportunity to study the full text of the treaty including its associated protocols. I understand that the Senate has not yet received the obligatory National Intelligence Estimate required for ratification procedures nor the State Department judgments on compliance performance. Before making its final decision, this Committee will no doubt carefully review those documents. The Committee has also available to it the concerns of previous witnesses, particularly those of Secretaries Baker and Schlesinger. The Committee could make a significant contribution by clarifying some of the treaty’s ambiguities.

At the end of any negotiation, controversies arise because a treaty merges the views of parties with different requirements and sometimes adversarial purposes. I personally would have preferred to avoid establishing a separate category for deployable but not deployed missiles or a different counting rule for airplanes. I would also have preferred to avoid prohibiting the use of missile launching sites for strategic defense as unnecessarily limiting strategic options of a future president. But having negotiated arms control agreements myself, I recognize the difficulty of achieving every objective. In deciding on ratification, these concerns need to be measured against the consequences of non-ratification, which would profoundly affect global confidence in American purposes.

Based on the evidence currently available, I would submit these key judgments:

  • The treaty, if observed, would maintain strategic stability with Russia over the next decade at somewhat lower force levels than currently existing.
  • The treaty allows for the necessary modernization of our forces. The obstacles to the necessary modernization are not provisions in the treaty but strategic decisions within our unilateral capacity to make.
  • The treaty does not unduly restrict our ability to build and deploy an effective missile defense system—again, a decision that will be shaped by strategic choices in our power to make.
  • The treaty, with its inspection and verification regime, is a significant confidence-building measure that may help lay the foundation for more constructive U.S.-Russian relations.
  • Verification must be adequate to detect any attempt to break out in sufficient time to devise an appropriate response. The Committee will want to pay special attention to the protocols dealing with these subjects and to expert testimony on that subject.

Long-Term Issues

Having said this, allow me to use this opportunity to raise additional concerns not as obstacles to ratification but to shape further negotiations we might pursue on the subject of arms control. The Committee might use the ratification process to help shape a bipartisan consensus with respect to them.

We need to adapt our policies to the changed political context. While negotiating traditional arms control, we must recognize that the danger of a strategic nuclear conflict with Russia is negligible. The U.S.-Russian relationship can no longer be defined in purely strategic terms. Nor should arms control bear the entire weight of this relationship. The contribution of the Russian-American relationship to world peace must be judged importantly in political terms—on the global issues like nuclear proliferation, environment and energy.

When strategic arms control with the Soviets began forty-plus years ago, the strategic world was bipolar. Other nuclear arsenals were not of sufficient dimension to affect the overall balance because the numbers of strategic warheads and delivery systems were so vast.

Three key elements have changed in the intervening years:

  • First, the number of nuclear weapons states has grown, as have the arsenals of some smaller nuclear weapons states.
  • Second, the numbers of American and Russian strategic warheads and deliveries systems have been radically reduced and are approaching levels where the arsenals of other countries will bear on the strategic balance, as will tactical nuclear weapons, particularly given the great asymmetry in their numbers in Russia’s favor.
  • Third, non-proliferation policies have failed to arrest the spread of nuclear weapons—including in the immediate issues of North Korea and Iran.

A multilateral strategic context is inherently more complex than a bilateral one. It obliges us to think through questions as these:

  • How is a multilateral strategic balance to be defined?
  • How many warheads and delivery vehicles of which kind are needed to deal with other contingencies, including those arising from proliferation and terrorism, and still have a sufficient residue to maintain a credible deterrent posture vis-à-vis Russia?
  • How would we deal with a potential hostile alliance of nuclear-armed states? And, further, how does the prospect of nuclear alliances affect the strategic equation?
  • What are the requirements of a credible war-fighting strategy in this context?
  • As nuclear arsenals are reduced and conventional defenses grow in relative significance or as deliberate substitute, what is the relevance of the lessons of history that deterrence is difficult to calculate with conventional weapons, hence the frequency of wars throughout history?

As we move towards lower numbers, extended deterrence guaranteeing allies and partners needs to be dealt with. For as strategic arsenals are reduced, the distinction between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons is bound to erode. The large Russian stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons, unmatched by a comparable American deployment, could threaten the ability to undertake extended deterrence. This challenge is particularly urgent given the possible extension of guarantees in response to Iran’s nuclear weapons program and other programs that may flow from it. For all these reasons, as the Nuclear Posture Review suggests, we are approaching with this treaty the limit beyond which further reductions are inadvisable unless they include Russia’s tactical systems.

This Committee is not in a position to settle all of these issues in the context of one ratification debate. But it can start—and indeed already has—the discussion, raise public awareness and convey a sense of the Senate with respect to them to guide future national decisions.


The United States is the only nuclear weapons state not currently modernizing its nuclear capabilities and supporting infrastructure. The pool of scientists, engineers, designers and technicians that has underpinned our nuclear forces is shrinking as we continue to rely on designs twenty years old.

As part of a number of recommendations, my colleagues, Bill Perry, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and I have called for significant investments in a repaired and modernized nuclear weapons infrastructure and added resources for the three national laboratories. We expressed this view in a statement of January 20, 2010, as follows:

“Maintaining high confidence in our nuclear arsenal is critical as the number of these weapons goes down. It is also consistent with and necessary for U.S. leadership in nonproliferation, risk reduction, and arms reduction goals…Departures from our existing stewardship strategies should be taken when they are essential to maintain a safe, secure and effective deterrent.” In determining what is essential, I believe that great weight should be given to the findings of the bipartisan Schlesinger-Perry Commission: “So long as modernization proceeds within the framework of existing U.S. policy, it should encounter minimum political difficulty.”

Bill Perry has summed up the challenge before our country: We must “move in two parallel paths—one path which reduces nuclear dangers by maintaining our deterrence, and the other which reduces nuclear dangers through arms control and international programs to prevent proliferation. Given today’s threats of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, these are not mutually exclusive imperatives. To protect our nation’s security, we must succeed in both.”

This Committee’s decision will affect the prospects for peace for a decade or more. It is, by definition, not a bipartisan but a non-partisan challenge. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to your deliberations.