National Security


And there is another important security matter we'll be hearing about in the coming weeks. It's the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START. The Obama administration wants senators to move quickly to ratify this arms control treaty with Russia, even as some Republicans are trying to put on the breaks. NPR's Michele Kelemen explains.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Advocates have come up with a long list of supporters of the treaty, from former secretaries of State and Defense - Democrats and Republicans alike - to officials who oversaw U.S. nuclear forces. There have been 18 congressional hearings and several classified briefings. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says her former Senate colleagues have a lot of reading material before the Foreign Relations Committee is expected to vote on the treaty in mid-September.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): When the Senate returns, they must act because our national security is at risk. There is an urgency to ratify this treaty because we currently lack verification measures with Russia, which only hurts our national security interests.

KELEMEN: The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, has been trying to help shepherd the new START treaty through the Senate. However, other Republicans have raised concerns that it could limit U.S. missile defense plans. The Obama administration argues that's not so, and has promised Republicans that the U.S. will invest $80 billion over the next decade in America's nuclear arsenal. But much of that money is for basic maintenance, not modernization, according to Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who recently toured U.S. nuclear weapons facilities.

Senator BOB CORKER (Republican, Tennessee): Look, we can reduce the amount of warheads that we have as long as we know they work, right? And so, you know, right now we are in a situation where the life of these warheads, the life of some of our delivery systems, are being depleted. And so there's got to be an additional investment made to modernize those.

KELEMEN: Senator Corker argues there's still a $10 billion funding shortfall. He's also working on a Senate resolution that would make clear that the new START treaty would not limit U.S. missile defenses. Corker says the administration shouldn't rush this.

Sen. CORKER: We're working towards getting the language right; we're working towards getting the appropriate commitments on modernization. I'd like to see that happen and if it does - certainly, I'd like to support the treaty.

KELEMEN: Corker denied that Republicans are slow walking the treaty for political reasons, as some arms control advocates have claimed. Secretary of State Clinton says the treaty is too important to fall victim to politics.

Sec. CLINTON: It should not be, in any way, caught up in election-year politics. I believe that the vast majority of senators will judge this treaty on the merits.

KELEMEN: Previous arms-control treaties, she says, have passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. For this one, she's hoping for at least the 67 votes needed in the Senate.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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