Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- New START Treaty

Posted on December 21, 2010

I will vote to ratify the New START Treaty between the United States and Russia, because it leaves 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 will vote 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 will vote 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 New Start Treaty than without it.     

Last week I joined Senators Inouye, Cochran, and Feinstein in a letter to the President, stating that we will vote to ratify the treaty and to appropriate funds to modernize our outdated nuclear weapons facilities and that he request those funds in his budgets.  Last night, I received a response from the President saying he would do so. 

I ask unanimous consent to include both letters in the record.

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

Defense Secretary Gates said: “There is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without either resorting to testing our stockpile or pursuing a modernization program.” 

In a November 24 statement, Senator Kyl and Senator Corker said they “could not support reductions in U.S. nuclear forces unless there is adequate attention to modernizing those forces and the infrastructure that supports them.”

Senators Kyl and Corker deserve credit for untiring efforts to fund properly nuclear modernization.  President Obama deserves credit for updating the nuclear modernization plan in such a significant way.

I have reviewed that so-called “1251 plan,” completed November 17, which calls for spending $85 billion over the next ten years. I have visited our outdated nuclear weapons facilities.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 Appropriations Committee means that the plan is more likely to become a reality.  The President agrees that in tight budgets these funds should be considered as defense spending.

I ask consent to include in the record a summary of the appropriations recommended by the plan mandated by section 1251 of the 2010 Defense Authorization bill.

I will offer an amendment to the resolution of ratification to require an annual update of the 1251 report which the president’s letter says he will do.   

Under the terms of the Treaty the United States may have 1550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons, each one up to 30 times more powerful than the one used at Hiroshima to end World War II.

The U.S. also 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.  

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 missile defense.  Our military and intelligence leaders all have said that. 

Obviously, something could happen down the road involving differences 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.       

I ask consent to include in the record the President’s letter on missile defense.         

Ratifying this treaty would extend the policies of Presidents Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, as well as Democratic presidents.

I ask unanimous consent to include in the record the statements of six Republican secretaries of state, all of whom support it.

Mr. President, I will vote to ratify this treaty, but the vote we are about to have today is on whether to end debate.  The majority’s decision to jam through other matters during this lame duck session has poisoned the well, driven away Republican votes and jeopardized ratification of this important agreement.   

Nevertheless, this Treaty was presented to the Senate on May 13.  After 12 hearings in two committees and many briefings, the Foreign Relations Committee reported the Treaty to the Senate on September 16 in a bipartisan vote of 14 to 4.  For several months there have been intense negotiations to develop a realistic plan and the funding for nuclear modernization.  That updated plan was reported on November 17.  The Senate voted to proceed to the Treaty last Wednesday.  I voted no, because I thought there should be still more time allowed for amendment and debate.  

But, despite the flawed process, I believe that the Treaty and the nuclear modernization plan make our country safer and more secure.  It will allow us to resume inspection and verification of disarmament of nuclear weapons in Russia.   The head of our missile defense system says the treaty will not hamper our missile development program—and if it does, we can withdraw from the Treaty.  All six former Republican Secretaries of State support it.

Therefore, I will vote to ratify the New START Treaty and during the next several years vote to fund the nuclear modernization plan.