Washington—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on the New START treaty:
“Since a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate ratified New START in 2010, the treaty has served American interests well. It put in place tough limits on Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Its strong verification measures have allowed us to make sure Putin doesn’t cheat, as he’s done to honor other agreements. And the treaty gave us the flexibility to maintain an effective, safe nuclear deterrent to allow us to deal with any threats America faces.
“But to understand the full importance of New START, we have to go back to the start of the Cold War. For roughly a quarter century after the end of World War II, the standoff between the United States along with our allies and the Soviet Union was marked by an arms race. Both sides stockpiled enough devastating weapons to destroy the world many times over. My age is the age we thought the Soviet Union would live forever and be our enemies forever.
“Then, 50 years ago, the Nixon Administration launched the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, or SALT. These talks were based on the notion that arms control, rather than an arms race, was the best way to keep the Soviet Union, now known as Russia, in check while avoiding a calamitous nuclear war.
“The SALT talks produced two groundbreaking agreements that were ratified in 1972, and in the years that followed, a bipartisan consensus formed around prudent arms control agreements as a key tool in advancing American security and keeping the Soviets at bay.
“Virtually every President since then has recognized the importance of arms control. President Carter signed the SALT II agreement: the first President Bush signed the original START treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and President Obama negotiated its successor, the New START Treaty.
“At the time New START was signed, that strong bipartisan consensus supporting arms control still prevailed. Seventy-one Senators voted to ratify. Former Secretaries of State of both parties spoke out in favor of it. It was a clear reflection of the old adage that guides our Committee’s work and Mr. McCaul and me have said this many times: politics should stop at the water’s edge.
“But in the years since then, we have seen a few strains of criticism. Some people just don’t like arms control for ideological or political reasons. Some would welcome a new arms race. And some just seem intent on undoing anything that President Obama touched.
“If the treaty’s opponents get their way, it will draw its last breath in February 2021. At that point, absent some extension, Russia’s nuclear forces would be completely unconstrained for the first time since 1972.
“Some of us here remember those days as I mentioned before. We remember air raid drills and duck-and-cover. We remember Soviet nuclear weapons based 90 miles off the coast of Florida, in Cuba. We remember when the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed over our lives.
“And when I look at Russia today, I see an unpredictable adversary. I see an autocratic leader in Vladimir Putin hell-bent on undermining democracy, splintering the west, and restoring some 21st-century version of the Soviet empire.
“The President suggested yesterday that Russia might not be a foe. Well guess what? I believe he’s wrong. And the last thing that we should want is for Vladimir Putin to massively expand his nuclear arsenal without any limits.
“No treaty is perfect. But with the clock ticking on New START, we need to ask whether we’re better off with or without it. The answer is obvious to me, and I hope the Trump Administration does the right thing and extends the treaty.”
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