A ground-based interceptor lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 5, 2008. The launch is a test of the ground-based midcourse defense element of the Ballistic Missile Defense System, which successfully intercepted a long-range target launched from Kodiak, Alaska.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold two hearings this week regarding the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, also known as the “New START Treaty.” These hearings may be the best chance Senators will have to publicly inquire what effect the New START will have on the U.S. missile defense program.

In the first hearing, on Tuesday, June 15, the Committee will hear testimony from two key U.S. negotiators for the New START, Rose Gottemoeller, the Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance, and Edward L. Warner III, the Pentagon’s representative for the negotiations. The Committee will have the opportunity at the second hearing, on Wednesday, June 16, to hear from Pentagon officials, including Lieutenant General Patrick J. O’Reilly, the Director of the Missile Defense Agency.

At both of these hearings, the Committee must question the witnesses about certain preamble language in the treaty, and what effect it will have on future U.S. missile defense capabilities. The specific language in the treaty reads:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.

The Russians believe that the preambulatory language is legally binding and will greatly restrict future U.S. missile defense capabilities. On April 8 (the day the treaty was signed) the Russians released the following statement:

The Treaty … can operate and be viable only if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively. Consequently, the exceptional circumstances referred to in Article 14 of the Treaty [providing for withdrawal from the treaty] include increasing the capabilities of the United States of America’s missile defence system in such a way that threatens the potential of the strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation. (emphasis added)

Is that the case? Dimitri Simes, President of the Nixon Center, has reported that Obama Administration negotiators gave assurances to the Russians that the U.S. had no intention to develop an extended strategic missile defense.

Administration witnesses on Tuesday and Wednesday must be pressed on this issue, with questions such as:

  • What assurances did U.S. negotiators give to the Russians regarding the U.S. missile defense program?
  • In what way does the preambulatory language in New START affect U.S. missile defense?
  • Were any side agreements made regarding future U.S. missile defense that would affect U.S. capabilities, either quantitatively or qualitatively?
  • Wouldn’t access to the negotiating history for the treaty enlighten the Senate regarding what was discussed concerning U.S. missile defense?