Earlier this year on April 8th, President Obama and President Medvedev of Russia met to sign the New START Treaty. This treaty deals with the reduction of nuclear weapons and sets lower limits on the amount of nuclear weapons each country possesses, as well as increasing the transparency of each countries nuclear facilities. Past treaties between these nations have regarded the reduction of nuclear arms, such as the original START Treaty passed in 1991 and the 2002 Moscow Treaty, but the New START Treaty sets limits that are 74% below the limits of the 1991 treaty and 30% below the limits of the Moscow Treaty. Further, since the Moscow Treaty is still active, the new START Treaty would replace it and thereby reduce the amount of nuclear warheads of each country by 30%. Specific guidelines within the New START Treaty [.pdf] include:
- Each country must not exceed 1,550 nuclear warheads.
- Each country must not exceed 800 deployed and non-deployed nuclear launchers.
- Each country must not exceed 700 deployed nuclear warheads.
- Each country must disclose the location of its nuclear facilities and allow the other country to conduct 18 inspections of those facilities each year.
Since America and Russia hold 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, many view the New START Treaty as a step forward in global security and as a symbol of progress between America and Russia. However, others argue the treaty would hamper efforts to build new missile defense systems and also update the US arsenal.
Before the New START Treaty becomes active, as the Constitution states under Article 2, two-thirds of the Senate must ratify a treaty. In other words, 67 Senators must approve the treaty. Past treaties dealing with the reduction of nuclear arms between America and Russia were easily approved. The Senate approved the original START Treaty with a vote of 93-6. The Senate unanimously approved the Moscow Treaty with a vote of 95-0.
Despite the overwhelming Senate approval of past treaties in regards to nuclear arms with Russia, the New START Treaty is facing opposition in the Senate. Democrats have voiced support for the treaty, while Republicans are critical of it. As a result, Democrats will likely try to bring the treaty to a Senate vote before the newly elected Republican Senators assume office. Democrats currently need 8 Republican votes to ratify the treaty, but this number would increase to 14 after the new Senators assume office. Regardless of whether the Senate ratifies the New START Treaty, the mere apprehension surrounding a valence issue illustrates the sharp degree of polarization currently in Washington.