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Republican Senators To Secretary Kerry: Nuclear Arsenal Should Only Be Reduced With Senate Approval

Jun 19, 2013 | Comunicados de Prensa

Senators: “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.”

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Republican Administrative Co-Chairman of the National Security Working Group, led a group of Republican senators in writing a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry asking questions about Russia’s compliance with its arms control commitments and President Barack Obama’s public comments on nuclear arms reductions in Berlin, Germany earlier today.

In a letter sent this afternoon, the senators raise questions about the recent communication between President Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia and remind Secretary Kerry that reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal should only occur with the advice and consent of the Senate.  

“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,” the senators write. “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.”

In addition to Rubio, the letter is signed by Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Tom Coburn (OK), Bob Corker (TN), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Enzi (WY), Deb Fischer (NE), Jeff Flake (AZ), Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), John Hoeven (ND), Johnny Isakson (GA), Mark Kirk (IL), James Inhofe (OK), Mike Johanns (NE), James Risch (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Tim Scott (SC), and Roger Wicker (MS).

The full text 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 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.

Atentamente,

Marco Rubio

James Inhofe

John Cornyn

John Barrasso

Deb Fischer

Mike Johanns

Roger Wicker

Tim Scott

Roy Blunt

Pat Roberts

Saxby Chambliss

Mark Kirk

John Boozman

Mike Enzi

John Hoeven

Kelly Ayotte

Chuck Grassley

James Risch

Jeff Flake

Bob Corker

Orrin Hatch

Tom Coburn

Johnny Isakson

Lamar Alexander