Ask the Under Secretary: The START Treaty and Other Issues

Ellen Tauscher
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security 
Washington, DC
March 4, 2010

Why is a START Follow On Treaty so important?

The nuclear arms race that characterized the Cold War cast a shadow over the lives of people everywhere—especially those living in Europe and the United States. But today there is universal agreement that, as Secretary Clinton said recently, "People everywhere have the right to live free from the fear of nuclear destruction."

So to that end, President Obama and President Medvedev of Russia have agreed to complete a verifiable treaty to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenals. Both sides have been negotiating for nearly a year. But we’re at the end game and we can see the finish line.

I thought Russia was a partner and the Cold War ended, why do we need a treaty?

The United States and Russia still have more than 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons. We need a treaty that limits the number of nuclear weapons and allows us to continue to monitor the other's intentions and capabilities.

You know we have relied on the START treaty for 15 years to make sure that promises made were promises kept. And we certainly agree with that Russian maxim that President Reagan made famous … Trust but Verify.

But START expired late last year. And we need a new agreement, updated for the 21st century, to help maintain and improve our current relationship.

I've seen a lot written in the news about missile defense. What’s the real story?

You know that subject has prompted a lot of debate in both of our countries. We are implementing President Obama’s refocused missile defense plan, which is known as the Phased Adaptive Approach, to defend our troops in Europe and ALL of our European allies.

Our missile defense architecture in Europe is in no way aimed at Russia. It is meant to defend against the emerging ballistic missile threat from Iran.

We hope to cooperate on missile defense with Russia to address a range of threats from around the world. Russia and the United States have unique missile defense assets. If used together in a cooperative manner, we believe it could enhance the security of both of our countries.

Aren’t nuclear weapons a key part of our defense strategy?

Sure. The biggest threat we face today is from terrorists who want a nuclear bomb. Clinging to nuclear weapons ultimately makes us less safe and makes the world a more unstable place.

But don’t get me wrong. We know that just because we reduce the size of our deterrent, states like Iran and North Korea won’t necessarily follow our lead. But we will have greater credibility and leverage to persuade others not to pursue a nuclear capability.