US Senate told to OK arms treaty

2010-09-10 16:05

Washington – Two former US secretaries of state, a Republican and a Democratic, urged the Senate on Friday to promptly approve an arms control treaty with Russia, saying that to delay it undermined US national security.

George Shultz and Madeleine Albright also rapped senators who have demanded more government funding for the US nuclear arsenal as a condition for backing the new START treaty with Moscow.

"Now is the time to act," Shultz and Albright wrote in an op-ed article in The Washington Post. It was also signed by former senators Gary Hart and Chuck Hagel.

"Delaying this treaty over an unrelated matter undermines our national security," they wrote. In any case, they added, Obama has proposed a 15% increase over current spending levels for modernising the US nuclear infrastructure.

Shultz was secretary of state under Republican President Ronald Reagan, and Albright held the post under Democratic President Bill Clinton. Former senator Hart is a Democrat; Hagel, a Republican.

Reducing deployed nuclear warheads

President Barack Obama signed the new START treaty with Russia in April. It commits the former Cold War foes to reducing deployed nuclear warheads by about 30% and is one of the central planks of Obama's nuclear policy.

The president wants it ratified this year. The document is expected to be approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week, where it has at least one Republican supporter, Senator Richard Lugar.

But its fate in the full Senate, where treaties need 67 votes to pass, is unclear. Senator Jon Kyl, the Senate's number two Republican, said last month that Obama must show greater commitment to modernising the US nuclear arsenal to gain more Republican backing for the new START.

Shultz, Albright, Hart and Hagel said that it was wrong to claim that future funding for the US nuclear arsenal might be insufficient when the Obama administration has proposed a 10-year, $80bn plan to modernise nuclear infrastructure.

They said such claims "fly in the face" of the opinions of Defence Secretary Robert Gates; the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Thomas D'Agostino; the chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen; and the head of the US Strategic Command, General Kevin Chilton. All had made clear the administration's plan "represents the funding level that is needed", for US nukes.