U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said he would to vote to ratify the New START Treaty between the U.S. and Russia, saying, "Americans are safer and more secure with the Treaty than without it."
This week Alexander and three other senators sent a letter to President Obama asking that the president, first, include funding for nuclear modernization in his budget requests to Congress. Yesterday the president sent a letter of agreement in response.
In remarks on the Senate floor this morning, Alexander said:
"I have reviewed the plan that calls for spending $85 billion over the next ten years on nuclear modernization. I have visited our outdated nuclear weapons facilities. I am convinced that the plan's implementation will make giant steps toward modernization of those facilities so that we -- and our allies and adversaries -- can be assured that the weapons will work if needed. The president's statement that he will ask for these funds and the support of senior members of the Senate Appropriations Committee means that the plan is more likely to become a reality. This will make sure the United States is not left with a collection of wet matches."
Alexander said that under the terms of the Treaty, the United States:
* will have up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons, "each one up to 30 times more powerful than the one used at Hiroshima to end World War II"; and
* will gain valuable data, including through inspection operations "that should provide a treasure trove of intelligence about Russian activities that we would not have without the treaty -- and that we have not had since the START treaty expired on December 9, 2009."
Alexander continued: "Over the weekend the president sent a letter to the Senate reaffirming "the continued development and deployment of U.S. missile defense systems ' There is nothing within the Treaty itself that would hamper the development or deployment of our missile defense. Our military and intelligence leaders all have said that. Obviously, something could happen down the road, for example, involving differences between Russia and the United States over missile-defense systems that could require either country to withdraw from the treaty. That is any sovereign country's right with any treaty. In 2002, President George W. Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty because of our desire to pursue missile defenses to protect us from an attack by a rogue state."
This week's letter to the president was signed by Senators Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the chairman and ranking Republican member of the Appropriations Committee, and also by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Alexander, who are members of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, which funds nuclear weapons modernization through its annual appropriations bills.
Copies of the letter the senators sent and of President Obama's response to Alexander follow.
The text of the letter to the president signed by Senators Inouye, Cochran, Feinstein, and Alexander:
Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to express our support for the ratification of the New START Treat and full funding for the modernization of our nuclear weapons arsenal, as outlined by your updated report that was mandated by Section 1251 of the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.
We also ask that, in your future budget requests to Congress, you include the funding identified in that report on nuclear weapons modernization. Should you choose to limit non-defense discretionary spending in any future budget requests to Congress, funding for nuclear modernization in the National Nuclear Security Agency's proposed budgets should be considered defense spending, as it is critical to national security and, therefore, not subject to such limitations. Further, we ask that an updated 1251 report be submitted with your budget request to Congress each year.
We look forward to working with you on the ratification of the New START Treat and modernization of the National Nuclear Security Agency's nuclear weapons facilities. This represents a long-term commitment by each of us, as modernization of our nuclear arsenal will require a sustained effort.
The text of the president's response to Alexander:
Dear Senator Alexander,
Thank you for your letter regarding funding for the modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and for your expression of support for ratification of the New START Treaty.
As you know, in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, I requested a nearly 10 percent increase in the budget for weapons activities at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). In May, in the report required by Section 1251 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, I laid out a 10 year, $80 billion spending plan for NNSA. The Administration submitted an update to that report last month, and we now project over $85 billion in spending over the next decade.
I recognize that nuclear modernization requires investment for the long-term, in addition to this one-year budget increase. That is my commitment to the Congress -- that my Administration will pursue these programs and capabilities for as long as I am President.
In future years, we will provide annual updates to the 1251 report. If a decision is made to limit non-defense discretionary spending in any future budget requests, funding for nuclear modernization in the NNSA weapons activities account will be considered on the same basis as defense spending.
In closing, I thought it important for you to know that over the last two days, my Administration has worked closely with officials from the Russian Federation to address our concerns regarding North Korea. Because of important cooperation like this, I continue to hope that the Senate will approve the New START Treaty before the 111th Congress ends.