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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release, August 3, 2010

Delay on New START ratification vote provides opportunity for assessment of nuclear weapons policies

Will "New START" occasion massive new investments in the nuclear weapons enterprise, or will cooler heads prevail?

Contact: Darwin BondGraham, Greg Mello, 505-265-1200

Albuquerque — Today's announcement of a delay in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on ratification of the New START treaty until mid-September provides an opportunity for reflection and substantive decision making about the future of US nuclear weapons policies. The Study Group applauds Senator Kerry's postponement of the vote, hoping the delay will allow Senate and House lawmakers to assess the wisdom of increasing spending on unnecessary nuclear weapons infrastructure over the next decade and beyond.

New START was signed by President Obama and Russian President Medvedev in April 2010, and Democrats have been pursuing its ratification in the Senate since then. Many arms control and disarmament NGOs have embraced this goal, lobbying aggressively in favor of New START, which the Administration has -- to some audiences, but not others -- called a "first step" toward future stockpile cuts. Many of those who have assessed the treaty, including the Study Group, have pointed out that it does not in fact require significant cuts to the stockpile beyond previously planned reductions of mostly redundant weapons, that it changes counting rules to "hide" hundreds of warheads from casual counting, and that no future disarmament steps are planned by the Administration or Russia.

Trimming the unnecessary, bloated projects in the nuclear weapons complex should top the Senate and Obama administration's nuclear policy agenda, according to the Study Group.

On July 30 the Study Group notified select senators about the Study Group's pending litigation facing the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Earlier on July 1, the Study Group gave notice of its intent to sue the Department of Energy to stop construction its key plutonium "pit" manufacturing investment for the US nuclear weapons complex if DOE does not prepare a new Environmental Impact Statement for this much-changed project.

In lieu of a treaty, the administration could have pursued more politically practical goals, as many of us recommended. Executive agreements, ratified by legislation requiring 60 votes and not 67 votes, are the primary vehicle for foreign policy today. Instead of simpler approaches, the administration has pursued a politically flawed and therefore dangerous nuclear policy agenda, one that requires hard-to-obtain Senate approval for what amounts to a very lackluster treaty. This approach gives conservative Senators veto power over all U.S. nuclear weapons policy while treaty ratification is pending, which has created a political "requirement" for major funding increases in nuclear weapons projects and programs.

Democrats have pushed hard for ratification, hoping it might buoy their elections prospects in November, while Republicans have sought to stall a vote thus denying the Democrats a major foreign policy win. "An unfortunate dynamic has developed around New START," says Darwin BondGraham, Study Group board member. "Democratic Party members and lobbyist with various arms control groups have wildly overblown this treaty as an arms reductions agreement. It's not. Republicans on the other hand have branded the treaty as one that might possibly weaken US national security, which is demonstrably false. Meanwhile Senate Republicans have been holding out in hopes of securing an even larger budgetary promise for new nuclear weapons facilities and warhead upgrades, under the moniker of 'modernization.' Both parties have been playing politics with the treaty to the detriment of the American people."

"The Obama administration has dug a very deep hole for itself and for the country," says Mello. "There's no way NNSA's budget, even with the planned increases, can pay for all the goodies that Obama's people have promised Senate Republicans and the weapons contractors. New START has become a non-starter. Obama needs to "start" over, develop 'exit ramps' from the grandiose schemes his administration's inattention has spawned, some of which will end in fiascoes, and forget about treaty ratification. The Administration gave up too much. This delay, which may well turn out to be long, is the result."

Greg Mello, Los Alamos Study Group
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