President Obama said today the U.S. and Russia are "quite close" to agreeing to a new treaty to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired on Dec. 16. That treaty required each country to cut its nuclear warheads by at least one-fourth, to about 6,000, and to put procedures in place to verify each others' actions.
In their letter, the senators reminded the president that the defense authorization law he signed in October links modernization of the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal to the ratification of the new START treaty.
"We don't believe further reductions can be in the national security interest of the U.S. in the absence of a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent," the Republican senators, joined by Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, wrote.
A blogger for the liberal Center for American Progress notes that the U.S. already has a significant modernization program in place at an annual cost of $6 billion and that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is considered the most advanced in the world.
The senators' letter may complicate the ratification of the treaty, which requires the approval of 67 senators. Mr. Obama spoke privately with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Copenhagen today, where they are both participating in the U.N. climate conference. The two leaders initially asked for a deal to be ratified by this point, but U.S. officials said negotiations are hung up on a disagreement over how to monitor the development of new intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Associated Press reports.
Mr. Obama and Medvedev signed a preliminary agreement in July to cut the number of nuclear warheads on each side to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years.