New START Passed by Senate 71-26 *updated w/statement by Secretary Clinton*
Under Senate rules, the treaty required support from a two-thirds majority of voting senators for final approval.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, was cleared with the help of solid Democratic support, as well as the backing of several Republican senators.
If ratified, the treaty would resume inspections of each country’s nuclear arsenal while limiting both the United States and Russia to 1,550 warheads and 700 launchers. It still needs to be approved by the Russian parliament.
President Obama signed the treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April. The accord is considered a critical component of nuclear non-proliferation efforts and the administration’s attempt to “reset” Washington’s relationship with Moscow.
Several senators were reassured by the last-minute passage of an amendment stating that the accord should not be interpreted in a way that would hamper U.S. missile defense plans. The amendment was sponsored by Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, among others.
Others said they had been assured of an administration commitment to modernize America’s aging nuclear arsenal.
“The people of the world are watching us, because they rely on our leadership,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Massachusetts. It is time to “move the world a little more out of the dark shadow of nuclear nightmare.”
“We are the leading nuclear power on this earth. It is our responsibility to lead,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota. This treaty is “a step in the right direction.”
Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, called it a step forward in terms of constraining “expensive arms competition with Russia” and frustrating “rogue nations who would prefer as much distance as possible between the United States and Russia.”
Not all Republicans were convinced, however.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, argued on the Senate floor that the basic premise of the treaty — that America’s nuclear arsenal should be at parity with Russia’s — is flawed.
“Russia is a protector of none and a threat to many. America is a protector of many and a threat to none,” DeMint said.
DeMint also voiced an ongoing conservative complaint in the lame-duck session — that Democrats were ramming the treaty through as part of a long list of partisan priorities rejected by the public in the midterm elections.
“We should not be passing major legislation at this time of year with this Congress,” he said. The arms pact is part of “a continued effort of accommodation and appeasement” that makes a “mockery of the debate and ratification process.”
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, called the treaty “an echo from the 20th century” that fails to account for new and emerging threats. Kirk and several other senators expressed a fear that, regardless of the amendment pushed through by McCain and Corker, the treaty would weaken America’s ability to prevent potential nuclear attacks from countries such as Iran and North Korea.
UPDATE: The State Department just released this statement by Secretary Clinton moments ago:
Senate Approval of New START
Today the Senate took a great step forward in enhancing our national security by providing its advice and consent to ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation. I congratulate the Senators of both parties who worked tirelessly to ensure that New START was approved, and I thank all the Senators who voted for this treaty for their commitment to our national security.
Once this Treaty enters into force, on-site inspections of Russia’s strategic nuclear weapons facilities can resume, providing us with an on-the-ground view of Russia’s nuclear forces. The information and insight from these inspections forms the core of our ability to “trust but verify” compliance with New START. A responsible partnership between the world’s two largest nuclear powers that limits our nuclear arsenals while maintaining strategic stability is imperative to promoting global security. With New START, the United States and Russia will have another important element supporting our “reset” relationship and expanding our bilateral cooperation on a wide range of issues.
President Obama and Vice President Biden have been unwavering in their dedication to this treaty to both strengthen our domestic security and reduce the international threat of nuclear weapons. This day would not have been possible without their leadership or the efforts of Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen. I also thank President George H.W. Bush and all the former Secretaries of State who added their support to this Treaty and worked to see New START approved. I and all my colleagues at the State Department look forward to working with our Russian partners to conclude the approval of New START in Russia, bring the Treaty into force, and deliver the global and national security benefits of New START.