WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sent a landmark arms-reduction treaty with Russia to the Senate on Thursday for ratification and called for $80 billion in nuclear funding, which could help win opposition support.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the funds, which would be spent over a decade, were needed to “rebuild and sustain America’s aging nuclear stockpile.”
The treaty, which must be ratified by the Senate and Russia’s parliament before it goes into force, would reduce the strategic nuclear arsenals deployed by the former Cold War foes by 30 percent within seven years.
Known as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, it is also seen as a major step toward “resetting” U.S.-Russia relations, which were prickly under the Bush administration.
“The U.S. is far better off with this treaty than without it,” Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, said in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. “It strengthens the security of the U.S. and our allies and promotes strategic stability between the world’s two major nuclear powers.”
Gates said the treaty had the unanimous support of America’s military leadership.
Obama, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his vision of a nuclear-free world, must get some Republican backing to win the 67 votes needed for Senate approval. Obama’s Democrats and their allies have 59 seats in the Senate.
Some Senate Republicans previously argued that Obama needed to commit more resources to modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex to convince them the treaty was viable.
“This might be what’s necessary to buy the votes for ratification,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
The White House noted the $80 billion in funding for the nuclear stockpile came on top of more than $100 billion in additional investments in nuclear delivery systems, like nuclear submarines.
Obama discussed efforts to ratify the treaty in a telephone conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday.
“The presidents stressed the importance of completing the ratification process in both countries as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by 2004 Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, aims to get the treaty ready for an eventual full Senate vote before Congress breaks for the summer recess in August, aides said.
Kerry said the $80 billion funding request was the largest since the Cold War.
“It demonstrates the Obama administration’s commitment to keeping America’s nuclear deterrent safe and effective for a generation to come,” Kerry said in a statement.
Kerry’s committee is planning to roll out Republican political heavyweights to testify, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker.
Obama has made nuclear nonproliferation one of the main goals of his presidency and last month unveiled a policy restricting U.S. use of nuclear weapons.
He has also renounced the development of new atomic weapons and in May disclosed for the first time the current size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Russia said on Wednesday it may lift the veil on its nuclear arsenal after the treaty with the United States comes into force.
If it does, that could raise pressure on other nuclear powers — such as China, Pakistan, India and Israel — to disclose their capabilities and potentially put global nuclear stockpiles on a downward trend, analysts say.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by John O'Callaghan