A Senate Summer Reading List

After setting September 15 as the date for a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on the New START nuclear reductions agreement with Russia, Chairman John Kerry wrote in a letter to his colleagues. “The coming six weeks,” Kerry said, “will provide members ample opportunity to review the materials related to New START.”

It’s not To Kill a Mockingbird, but here are the top five items that should be on each Senator’s reading list to prepare for a floor vote after August recess.

  • The National Intelligence Estimate on the New START Treaty, released in July 2010 and available in a New START Treaty file in the Office of Senate Security. The NIE concludes the U.S. can effectively verify Russian compliance with New START, but there are caveats.
  • The State Department’s “Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements Report,” which finds Russia was “in compliance with the START strategic offensive arms central limits for the 15-year term of the treaty,” though some issues remain.
  • Nuclear Commanders’ letter from seven former heads of the Strategic Command urging quick ratification of the treaty in order to restore transparency and predictability to Russian nuclear forces. Senators should read what the military commanders who have had their fingers on the U.S. nuclear button have to say.
  • Testimony from top military officials. “This treaty has the full support of your uniformed military,” said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen. “The New START Treaty reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program in several areas,” Missile Defense Agency Director General Patrick O’Reilly testified. Senators can read these and other gems in testimony by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command Kevin Chilton, and the Missile Defense Agency Director General Patrick O’Reilly over the course of 21 Senate hearings and briefings.
  • Partnership for a Secure America statement, an endorsement of New START signed by 30 leading national security experts including Colin Powell, George Shultz and Howard Baker. Many more military officers and national security officials have endorsed the treaty through their membership in the Consensus for American Security.

Of course, senators should read the treaty itself. It’s only 17 pages, as it builds on the treaty and verification procedures established by President Ronald Reagan’s original START treaty from 1989.

The sharpest criticism of the treaty comes from the briefs and blogs produced by the Heritage Foundation. A good depository of pro-START materials can be found at the Arms Control Association.

Finally, if you’re tired of all the reading, or just want the Cliff Notes version, go see the new documentary on the nuclear threat, Countdown to Zero, playing around the country this August.

Don’t get too much sun, never swim alone, and come back safe and sound, ready for the historic vote on the treaty next month.

Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund. Elise Connor is a research assistant.

The Hill