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McConnell slams START, but facts don't back him up

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell detailed Monday on the Senate floor his reasons for opposing New START, the nuclear arms reduction accord the Obama administration negotiated with Russia.

Many of his assertions don't check out. Here is an assessment of the case made by the Kentucky Republican and other critics for opposing passage of the treaty by the lame-duck Senate.

• "First and foremost, a decision of this magnitude should not be decided under the pressure of a deadline. The American people don't want us to squeeze our most important work into the final days of a session."

No nuclear arms control treaty has ever been considered during a lame-duck Senate session. Other arms control accords, however, have had less debate on the Senate floor and fewer committee hearings than New START has.

For example, former President George W. Bush's 2003 Treaty of Moscow, which McConnell supported, had just four hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and two days of debate in the full chamber before it was approved 95-0.


The 1993 START II treaty, which former President George H.W. Bush negotiated with Moscow, underwent eight hearings before the committee and two days of floor debate before a 87-4 final vote.

By contrast, the Foreign Relations Committee held 12 hearings on New START, the Senate Armed Services Committee held six hearings and the Senate Intelligence Committee held one as well. Monday marked the sixth day of debate by the full Senate.

• The treaty "does nothing to significantly reduce the Russian Federation's stockpile of strategic arms."

It's true that Russia could keep as many warheads in storage as it wishes, but so could the U.S. The treaty's focus is slashing deployed strategic warheads, and for the first time ever, it will allow inspectors to actually count the number the other side deploys.

"It's ridiculous. It sounds like he is a little deficient in mathematics here," said Robert Norris of the pro-arms control National Resources Defense Council of McConnell's assertion. "That's the whole purpose of the treaty, to reduce the number of warheads."

Norris, co-author of studies on the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, puts the current number of deployed Russian strategic warheads at about 2,600.

That number would shrink to no more than 2,200 by the end of next year under the 2003 Treaty of Moscow, and then fall by the end of six more years to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads under New START. (The U.S. had 1,968 deployed warheads as of April.)

• New START "ignores the thousands of tactical nuclear weapons in the Russian arsenal."


No nuclear arms control accord with Moscow has ever dealt with tactical — or battlefield — nuclear weapons, a highly complicated issue that U.S. officials believe should be dealt with separately.

Neither Russia nor the U.S. has disclosed the number of tactical nuclear weapons in its arsenal.

Norris and his associate at the Federation of American Scientists, Hans Kristensen, estimated in 2009 that Russia had some 5,390 tactical nuclear warheads, nearly two-thirds of which are in storage or awaiting dismantlement. They assessed that the U.S. had about 500 deployed tactical nuclear weapons, about 200 of which were in Europe.


•  "The New START treaty allows the Russians to deploy missiles without a standard or uniform number of warheads."

The Obama administration, the U.S. military and intelligence communities and treaty supporters say the verification and monitoring system in New START will give the U.S. the tools to ensure Russian compliance with the treaty's limits on strategic nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

These include information exchanges that will allow the U.S. to track individual Russian missiles and bombers. In addition, inspections will count the actual number of deployed warheads rather than rely on assumptions as before.

"The (U.S.) intelligence community was involved throughout, both obviously in our internal discussions as well as in our negotiations with the Russians. And it is my judgment that this treaty provides the necessary means to adequately verify," Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 17.


"The verification regime ... is in many ways better than the one that has existed in the past," Mullen told ABC News last month.

• The treaty provides for "a limited number of warhead inspections."

U.S. officials say the monitoring system would allow U.S. experts to conduct nearly twice the number of annual inspections of Russia's strategic nuclear forces as were authorized under the START I agreement that expired a year ago.

The new pact would allow 18 annual inspections divided into two categories.

There would be 10 "Type One" inspections of Russian deployed missiles and bombers compared to 28 allowed under START I. But, U.S. officials say, the new system would be able to verify the same amount of data in a single inspection that required two inspections under the old regime.

There would be eight "Type Two" inspections of Russian non-deployed strategic nuclear weapons under New START.

The new inspections, however, would cover 35 sites in Russia, compared with the more than 70 sites in the former Soviet Union covered by START I.

"New features of the treaty's inspection protocol will provide increased transparency for both parties and therefore contribute to greater trust and stability," Mullen said in a letter he sent to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., on Monday.


• "The State Department's recent reports on arms control compliance make clear" that Russia has violated provisions of START I as well as treaties banning chemical and biological weapons and limiting the deployment of conventional forces in Europe.

"The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command and I assess that Russia will not be able to achieve militarily significant cheating or breakout ... due to both the New START verification regime and the inherent survivability and flexibility of the planned U.S. strategic force structure," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote Kerry on July 30.

Moreover, the State Department's most recent report on "Adherence To And Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmaments Agreements and Commitments," said Russia was "in compliance" with "the central limits" set in the START I accord "for the 15-year term of the treaty."

The July 2010 report said the U.S. had raised a number of "compliance issues" with Moscow since a 2005 report, but that "several of these have been closed." Other issues remained "unresolved" when the pact expired last year, but the sides had worked diplomatically to "ensure smooth implementation of the treaty."

The report said "there were no indications" that Russian biological research activities "were conducted for purposes inconsistent with" the ban set forth in the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. It noted, however, that it was "unclear" if Russia had terminated the biological weapons program it inherited when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The United States has been "unable to ascertain" whether Russia is in compliance with the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, the report said.

Russia has been "in non-compliance" with the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which set limits on the deployment of conventional military forces, the report noted. Moscow suspended its implementation of the accord in 2007.

Russia announced its suspension in response to a number of disputes, including NATO's enlargement into former Soviet republics and the alliance's demand for withdrawals of Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova.

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