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Inhofe: New START Hearings Should Be Balanced

As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story. Unfortunately, when it comes to the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the Senate is only hearing one side.

[IMGCAP(1)]While it is understandable that the Obama administration and Senate Democrats would want to stack the deck of witnesses with those who support their position, not allowing a single witness with a view opposed to the treaty hinders the Senate from making a well-informed decision and is downright undemocratic. Why bother holding hearings at all if they only serve as a rubber-stamp procedure for the administration’s position?

Since President Barack Obama signed the New START with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have held several hearings to discuss the agreement. These hearings are meant to provide expert analysis to help inform those of us in the Senate as we consider whether to ratify the treaty.

Serving on both of these committees, I have watched as we have had, to date, no fewer than 15 hearings with 26 different witnesses providing their opinions of the accord. Except for two neutral witnesses who expressed caution and addressed several critical concerns, every single witness that has been allowed to testify has been a supporter of the New START. Such an incomplete approach to this important issue is a disservice to both the U.S. Senate and the Americans we each represent.

Without a more balanced approach that allows the views of multiple witnesses who possess a wide spectrum of opinions, the Senate is prevented from hearing the position of experts who believe the New START is detrimental to the United States’ ability to protect itself with a robust missile defense system.

Likewise, missing from the debate are analysts who express concern that the treaty will further prevent the United States from modernizing our rapidly aging weapons for better, safer and more accurate weaponry. If those experts who have concerns about the agreement are summarily shut out, the Senate will not hear witnesses alarmed by the inequitable limits on arms between the U.S. and Russia to include tactical nuclear weapons, or those that question the treaty’s verification measures.

A similar situation occurred during the first years of President George W. Bush’s administration, as the Law of the Sea Treaty was brought before the Senate for consideration. I was then the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and it was not until I called for an EPW oversight hearing on LOST that the Senate heard from experts who did not support the treaty. It went on to fall short of ratification.

I hope that one of my Democratic Senate colleagues who leads a committee with oversight of the New START will demonstrate a similar fondness for a more fair and open exchange of information.

This is why I have encouraged Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) to rectify the one-sided nature of the debate thus far.

Similarly, I have advocated for a balanced approach in the Foreign Relations Committee. Only after Members of the Senate have been provided information on both sides of the issue will we be able to make the decision that is best for the United States.

It remains to be seen whether those in Senate leadership positions with oversight will continue to stonewall those with opposing views or provide a more even-handed approach. With more hearings to come in the days and weeks ahead, there is still time. The Senate has a constitutional duty of advice and consent. In order to perform that function, both sides of the New START must be heard.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee and serves on the Foreign Relations Committee.

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