Senate Republicans are dragging their feet on the ratification of the START nuclear treaty with Russia, according to a chorus of Democrats and newspaper editorial boards who urge its immediate ratification.
But Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hesitated putting his finger in the partisan political soup.
“You would have to ask the Senate,” Admiral Mullen, told ABC’s This Week anchor Christiane Amanpour, sidestepping on whether Republicans are playing politics with national security.
“What I think is – there is a sense of urgency with respect to ratifying this treaty that needs to be recognized. Historically this has been bipartisan. This is a national security issue of great significance and the sooner we get it done the better,” he said.
Adm. Mullen stressed that START must be ratified in spite of this ‘lame duck’ session.
“That’s the soonest possible time, absolutely,” he said.
The treaty — signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Obama at an elaborate ceremony in Prague in April — restricts each nation to a maximum of 1,550 deployed warheads, a cut of about 30 percent from a limit set in 2002
Since the previous agreement lapsed in December 2009, US inspectors have not monitored Russia’s nuclear weapons. The accord also requires ratification by Russia’s lower house, the Duma.
Adm. Mullen told This Week that the Obama administration has pledged enough money to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons systems.
“I’ve reviewed it several times, and it is a clear commitment to modernize the nuclear infrastructure of this country,” he said, answering the doubt of dissenter Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl over the nuclear arsenal’s deterrent ability.
Adm. Mullen also noted that he, the uniformed leadership, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are “completely comfortable with where we are militarily.”
“The verification regimes in some ways are better than the one that has existed in the past,” he said.
“Without ratification, we put at risk the coalition that we have built to put pressure on Iran, and the transit route through Russia that we use to equip our troops in Afghanistan,” said President Obama last week. “And without ratification, we risk undoing decades of American leadership on nuclear security, and decades of bipartisanship on this issue. Our security and our position in the world are at stake.”
Failure to pass the deal would suggest that Obama is weakened politically after the mid-term polls cast doubt on his ability to pass major legislation and represent a personal humiliation in front of other world leaders.
Adm. Mullen said that US/Russia relations are “maturing” with respect to Russia allowing US forces to move equipment around Afghanistan as well as agreeing to join the Nato missile defense shield.
“There’s been an awful lot tied into the improvement of this relationship,’ he said.