Letter to John Kerry, Secretary of State of U.S. Department of State - Nuclear Arsenal Reduction

U.S. Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) joined 22 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing concern over efforts to further reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile, which has served as an effective deterrent since World War II.

The senators lay out several concerns, including Russia's questionable compliance record with past arms control agreements as well as the need for greater transparency surrounding the Administration's ongoing discussions with Moscow about further reductions. The letter also requests a commitment from Kerry that any nuclear reductions are carried out through the regular treaty process with Senate ratification, not through unilateral executive actions.

Johanns is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Fischer is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A copy of the letter is available below:

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U. S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We write in response to President Obama's speech in Berlin announcing his willingness to reduce U.S. deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one third.

As the Senate considers the nominations of several senior State Department officials who will oversee U.S. arms control policy and strategic discussions with the Russians, especially that of Rose Gottemoeller to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, we wish to outline our concerns and express our interest in working with the administration to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to keep Americans safe.

The first issue we will be watching closely as the Senate considers these nominations relates to Russia's compliance with its arms control commitments to the United States. Specifically, we will seek assurances from the administration that Russia is in compliance with its nuclear arms control agreements and obligations, including the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives (PNIs) agreed to by President George H.W. Bush and President Boris Yeltsin, and its Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty obligations as the United States defines those obligations. We note the recent amendment adopted by the House Armed Services Committee which states that Russia is "in active noncompliance with existing nuclear arms obligations."

Earlier this year, all Republican members of the SSCI sent you a classified letter on these very issues. The fact that the response did not address many of the issues raised in the letter, combined with the fact that the annual compliance report is already several months past-due calls into question just how seriously the administration takes the issue of verification and enforcement of existing agreements. We agree with President Obama's statement that "[r]ules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something" and look forward to receiving additional information from you that this is the case when it comes to Russia's track record on its multilateral and bilateral arms control commitments.

A second issue that we are closely following is the administration's reported plans to carry out further nuclear reductions. In his speech in Berlin, President Obama said the administration would "seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures." Press reports in recent months have highlighted recent meetings between senior American and Russian officials about this issue and referenced exchanges of proposals.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, President Obama promised that he would seek "to foster better executive-legislative relations and bipartisan unity on foreign policy." In the spirit of that promise of cooperation and your own recent expressed interest in fostering bipartisan cooperation on arms control, we request a copy of the President's letter to President Putin and the recently received Russian response.

It is our view that any further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only be conducted through a treaty subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. This view is consistent with past practice and has broad bipartisan support, as you know from your service in the Senate. Indeed, then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and then-Ranking Member Jesse Helms, in a March 2002 to letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that "With the exception of the SALT I agreement, every significant arms control agreement during the past three decades has been transmitted pursuant to the Treaty Clause of the Constitution...we see no reason whatsoever to alter this practice."

As you will recall, in its resolution of ratification of the New START agreement, the Senate stated that "further arms reduction agreements obligating the United States to reduce or limit the Armed Forces or armaments of the United States in any military significant manner may be made only pursuant to the treaty-making power of the President as set forth in Article II, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States." We agree with both of these interpretations of the Senate's role in providing advice and consent to such agreements.

Former Secretary of Defense Panetta endorsed this view in testimony to Congress on February 15, 2012: "reductions that have been made, at least in this Administration, have only been made as part of the START process and not outside of that process; and I would expect that that would be the same in the future." We thus request that you pledge to us that any further nuclear reductions would be carried out only as part of a treaty to be submitted for ratification by the Senate.

We appreciate the administration's expressed interest in restoring bipartisanship to arms control and believe that your answering of these questions and provision of this information will aid that effort and ensure adequate consultation with the Senate as your discussions with Russia proceed. We look forward to your quick response so that the Senate may act on the relevant nominees pending confirmation.

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