The Senate Has the Right to Amend New START

Baker Spring and Michaela Bendikova /

The Senate plays a vital role in the treaty-making process. The Senate is required to provide due diligence in the considerations of treaties. The Founding Fathers set a high procedural bar for ratification and entry into force of treaties, expecting that the Senate would serve as a quality control mechanism.

Thus, they gave the Senate the power to amend the text of any treaty brought before it. This includes New START, a strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia.

In addition, the Senate must adopt a resolution of ratification for New START. The resolution of ratification can contain reservations, understandings, conditions, and declarations. The Senate has the power to adopt any of those to fix the seriously flawed New START.

It is inappropriate to describe all amendments to text of New START as “killer” amendments. Blocking meaningful amendments undermines the constitutional authority of the Senate by artificially limiting Senate options for providing advice in the course of the making of treaties.

The Senate considered the original START for nearly a year. The Moscow Treaty, which was far less complex than New START, was before the Senate for nearly nine months. The Obama Administration took more than 12 months to negotiate New START but has sought approval from the Senate in the course of the few days of floor consideration. The rush to ratify a flawed treaty undermines the important role of “advice and consent” that the Senate must exercise on any treaty of this magnitude.

Upon the exchange of instruments of ratification, some of the changes the Senate could make to New START would have to be accepted by the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation might decide to reject instruments of ratification, which would mean that the treaty would not enter into force. Therefore, if New START is “killed,” it would be because the Russians rejected it, not the U.S. This would also mean that Moscow may be standing up for their interests more rigorously than the Obama Administration is standing up for U.S. interests.