What is New START and where does it stand right now?

New START is a new arms control treaty that was signed by the U.S. and Russia between President Obama and President Medvevev in April. It is a treaty that is going to reduce the amount of deployed nuclear weapons that each side possesses to 1,550, and it also is going to decrease the amount of launchers, the things that launch nuclear weapons, down to 800 deployed launchers. The other thing it does, importantly, is maintain the existing verification framework that the original START treaty had that was negotiated under Ronald Reagan. This treaty put boots on the ground to give each side knowledge of each other's nuclear facilities, allowed inspections of Russian nuclear sites, and that gave our military a great sense of what Russia was doing and led to strategic stability and made us not really worry as much about nuclear war, since we understood what the other side was doing with its nuclear weapons.

Currently, this treaty, which was agreed to and signed on April 8, has been moving through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under the leadership of Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lugar. The treaty looks like its going to be headed to a vote this week, there is some uncertainty whether other conservatives on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will end up supporting the treaty, but the hope is that a vote will happen in committee this week.

Why are conservatives standing in the way of ratification?

The second group involves those that are essentially seeking to cause a political defeat on President Obama. They view this in purely a political lens and want to deny Obama a victory on what would be one of his most signature foreign policy issues.

The third basket involves those looking for, essentially, nuclear pork. There are a number of nuclear facilities around the country and this group has tied nuclear moderation funding- essentially spending more on our nuclear weapons and nuclear labs and nuclear infrastructure to the START treaty. This has led to calls for sort of an arbitrary increase in funding, which is sort of ironic given that the president and the administration has already increased funding by more than 15 percent over what the Bush administration was spending. So they are essentially looking for a side deal in order to support the treaty.

What would happen if Congress doesn't ratify the treaty?

If the new start treaty isn't ratified, it will have a number of very negative implications. On the one hand, the treaty is very modest. It essentially continues the current nuclear status quo in relations between the U.S. and Russia. But the first major impact would be on U.S.-Russia relations. This would essentially end the reset. Russians would see this as a major slap in the face. The second thing it would do, is it would mean the end of nuclear strategic stability between the U.S. and Russia. For the last two decades, the nuclear relationship has been governed with the original START treaty, which set it place verification measures and other confidence-inducing activities that led each side to have a good knowledge of the other. What would happen if we lost New START would be essentially nuclear anarchy, where we would have no idea what the Russians are doing, they would have no idea what we're doing, and this could lead to increased tensions and the last thing you want when you have nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert that could be fired and land in U.S. or Russian cities in 30 minutes is any sort of instability. And I think the third implication would be on the overall nonproliferation regime. Less than 10 countries in the whole world have nuclear weapons. When Kennedy was in office, he predicted more than 20 by 1970. The reason why this hasn't come about is that there's a nonproliferation regime in place. One of the aspects of that regime is that its based on a bargain that the nuclear powers agree to cut their nuclear arsenals, and in exchange non-nuclear states won't go nuclear. If we aren't adhering to our commitments, and New START is seen as instrumental in adhering to our commitments, there's no reason that other states such as Brazil, such as Iran, such as Indonesia, such as Egypt, wouldn't simply decide to say, "If the U.S. isn't living up to its bargain, or its agreement, why can't we also develop nuclear weapons?" So we weaken the international consensus at which nuclear weapons have against developing nuclear technology and nuclear weapons and it could lead to a cascade of nuclear proliferation. So the effects of New START failing could be very, very severe and therefore, ratification of the treaty is essential.