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At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Dec. 4, a distinguished slate of national security experts delivered a strong message: The U.S. should extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia before it expires 14 months from now.

While the Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment that same day garnered the headlines, the strong bipartisan support shown for retaining New START deserves more attention.

“The alternative to New START extension is a nuclear free-for-all,” warned retired Admiral Michael Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when New START was negotiated. “No limits, no verification, no predictability regarding Russian strategic nuclear forces.”

“The alternative to New START extension is a nuclear free-for-all,” warned retired Admiral Michael Mullen

Mullen was joined at the hearing by three other witnesses—Rose Gottemoeller, who led New START negotiations and later served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and then Deputy Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); Ken Myers, who directed the Defense Department agency that carries out treaty inspections inside Russia; and Pranay Vaddi, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who previously served on the State Department team that managed implementation of the treaty with Russia. All three recommended that the U.S. extend the treaty by up to five years, as the treaty allows.

I’ve been watching congressional hearings from front row seats for over a decade, and I’ve never seen a panel of witnesses this united in their recommendation. What’s more, the witnesses found a largely supportive committee audience in their calls for New START extension.

I’ve been watching congressional hearings from front row seats for over a decade, and I’ve never seen a panel of witnesses this united in their recommendation.

“[W]e need to ensure that New START is extended in a responsible manner,” said the senior Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike McCaul (TX-10). McCaul has crossed partisan lines to join committee Chairman Eliot Engel (NY-16) to co-sponsor H.R. 2529, the Richard G. Lugar and Ellen O. Tauscher Act to Maintain Limits on Russian Nuclear Forces.

FCNL is seeking bipartisan co-sponsors for H.R. 2529 and its accompanying Senate legislation (S. 2394), introduced by Sens. Todd Young (IN) and Chris Van Hollen (MD) and now joined by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Rand Paul (KY).

To sacrifice the national security benefits that New START provides would be an “unconscionable mistake,” in the words of Mullen. Only the president can sign a New START extension, and Russian Vladimir President Putin said on Dec. 5 that he is willing to do the same now, without preconditions. By supporting extension, Congress can encourage the president to make the choice that so many national security experts recommend.

With New START slated to expire on Feb. 5, 2021, the clock is ticking.

Anthony Wier

Anthony Wier

Legislative Secretary, Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending
Anthony served as lead lobbyist and the director of FCNL’s work on nuclear weapons policy and was a key team leader working on our efforts to rein in Pentagon spending.

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