Tennessean: Lamar Alexander: New START treaty will make America safer

Posted on December 26, 2010

I voted to ratify the New START treaty between the United States and Russia because it will leave our country with enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come, and because the president has committed to an $85 billion, 10-year plan to make sure that those weapons work.

I voted for the treaty because it allows for inspection of Russian warheads, and because our military leaders say it does nothing to interfere with the development of our missile defense system. I voted for the treaty because the last six Republican secretaries of state support it. In short, I am convinced that Americans are safer and more secure with the treaty than without it.

Last week, I joined three other senators in a letter to President Barack Obama stating that we would vote to ratify the treaty and to appropriate
funds to modernize our outdated nuclear weapons facilities and asking that he request those funds in his budgets. On Monday, I received a response from the president saying he would do so.

Treaty, modernization linked

Why are the treaty and modernization plan necessarily linked? The answer is that if we are going to reduce our number of warheads, we want to make sure we are not left with what amounts to a collection of wet matches. 

I have reviewed the updated plan, which calls for spending $85 billion over the next 10 years to modernize these truly dilapidated facilities. In July, with Sens. Richard Lugar and Jon Kyl, I visited the facilities at the Y-12 National Nuclear Complex in Oak Ridge. I am convinced that the plan's implementation will make giant steps toward modernization so that we, our allies and our adversaries can be assured that the weapons will work if needed. 

Implementation includes spending $3.6 billion for a new secured area at Oak Ridge, covering 15 acres instead of the current 150. It means tearing down the last 17 Cold War buildings. The more efficient facility will save taxpayers $200 million each year in operation costs. Finally, the plan commits $1 billion for Energy Department pension funds, a great help to the 7,000 Tennesseans who work at Oak Ridge.

Under the treaty, the U.S. will have up to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons, each up to 30 times more powerful than the one used at Hiroshima. The U.S. also will gain valuable data, including thorough inspections, that should provide a treasure trove of intelligence about Russian activities that we would not have without the treaty — and have not had since the START treaty expired Dec. 9, 2009.

There is nothing within the treaty itself that would hamper the development or deployment of missile defense. Our military and intelligence leaders all have said that.

Last week, the president sent a letter to the Senate reaffirming that the United States will continue to develop and deploy effective missile defenses.

I am convinced that the treaty and the modernization plan will make our country safer and more secure. The head of our missile-defense system says the treaty will not hamper our own missile program — and if it does, we can withdraw from the treaty. All six former Republican secretaries of state support it. That is why I voted to ratify New START, and why I will vote to fund the nuclear modernization plan.

Sen. Lamar Alexander is Tennessee's senior senator in Congress.