In March 2002, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden (D-Del.) and then-Ranking Member Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) penned a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell insisting that any arms control agreement reached with Russia go through the proper channel: the upper chamber of Congress.
The senators were reacting to Powell’s admission that President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin were diligently crunching away at a pact to reduce nuclear stockpiles.
“With the exception of the SALT I agreement, every significant arms control agreement during the past three decades has been transmitted to the Senate pursuant to the Treaty Clause of the Constitution,” Biden and Helms wrote. “We see no reason whatsoever to alter this practice.”
The pair concluded “no constitutional alternative exists to transmittal of the concluded agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent.”
Under the Constitution, the president can only negotiate or pull out of a treaty without approval from the Senate. Any new agreement needs to go through the upper chamber.
After President Obama’s vow today to unilaterally pursue new arms reductions and forge some sort of agreement with Russia in the process, GOP senators fired off a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry warning that, just like the current vice president cautioned more than a decade ago, the administration is poised to run afoul of the Constitution.
“Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons — no matter how distant that dream may be,” Obama said at a thinly attended speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany.
He hailed 2010’s New START treaty, arm-twisted out of a skeptical Senate with promises to modernize the nuclear arsenal that have never been kept, as putting the U.S. and Russia “on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.”
“But we have more work to do. So today, I’m announcing additional steps forward. After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures,” Obama said.
With the cold postures exhibited by the two leaders toward each other at this week’s G8 summit, that’s an awfully optimistic policy push.
“At the same time, we’ll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe. And we can forge a new international framework for peaceful nuclear power, and reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking,” continued the president hellbent on the Global Zero nuclear-elimination initiative.
“These are steps we can take to create a world of peace with justice.”
GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Boozman (Ark.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Deb Fischer (Neb.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Hoeven (N.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), James Inhofe (Okla.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), James Risch (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kansas), Tim Scott (S.C.), and Roger Wicker (Miss.) told Kerry they wanted 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,” the senators wrote. “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.’”
“The president’s desire to negotiate a new round of arms control with the Russians, while Russia is cheating on a major existing nuclear arms control treaty, strains credulity,” House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said today. “I have been urging the president through classified and unclassified correspondence to take seriously these violations by Russia since last year, but the president has ignored these concerns.”
Earlier this year, all of the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a classified letter to Kerry expressing said concerns — however, they noted today that Kerry’s response was less than satisfactory.
“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,” the GOP senators continued in the Kerry letter. “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.”
The lawmakers also demanded to be brought up to speed on communications thus far between Washington and Moscow on arms reduction.
“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,” the senators wrote.
The senators reminded Kerry of the constitutional process to send any new agreements through the upper chamber for advise and consent.
“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,” they wrote.
With a prompt, clear response this time from Kerry, the GOPs said, “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,” can move forward.
Separately from the Kerry letter, Hoeven noted reductions from the New START treaty still haven’t been met. That agreement required the U.S. to slash its arsenal from about 2,500 nuclear missiles to about 1,500. Now Obama wants to knock that down to 1,000.
“With Russia, China and North Korea expanding their nuclear arsenals, and Iran working furiously to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon, it makes no sense to cut our levels by another third beyond the treaty,” Hoeven said.
“The U.S. currently has an arsenal that our military commanders believe is appropriately sized to address the strategic threats facing the United States,” he added. “If anything, the world is more dangerous now than it was when New START was ratified just a few years ago. I don’t see how our security can be improved by slashing our strategic forces, especially as other countries like Russia, China and North Korea continue to increase their nuclear arsenals.”
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said national defense priorities “have always been a troubling issue with the Obama administration.”
“This decision is completely at odds with the current realities facing our nation and seems to be completely at odds with our request to require Congressional approval for any drawdowns,” Vitter said.
“President Obama basically told Russia’s president that he’ll walk away from our nuclear deterrence and at the same time is also walking away from helping protect our close allies in Europe right when the threat is greatest for them, particularly from Iran and others who we know are seeking these capabilities – I just hoped he wouldn’t actually do it.”