This was a vote on the ratification (enactment) of a nuclear weapons reduction treaty limiting the number of warheads the U.S. and Russia could maintain in their nuclear arsenals to 1,550. The treaty also limited the number of nuclear delivery systems (or “launchers”) each side could maintain to 700. A “nuclear delivery system” simply refers to the technology that launches a nuclear weapon in a manner that will enable it to detonate on or near its target.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) urged senators to vote in favor of ratifying the treaty: “This really is a historic moment. This is the biggest arms control treaty in 20 years, and the most important foreign policy action the Senate will take this Congress. This is absolutely the right thing to do. It is important to our national security and it is critical to uphold America's place in the world community….With the ratification of this treaty, the Senate…makes clear that the United States is willing and able to make good on its foreign policy promises and to act in the best interests of our country and of the world.”
This treaty gained significant Republican support. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) urged support for the measure: “During my campaign when I ran for reelection this year, I made the following statement: ‘The rest of my life is about doing everything I can do to see to it that the lives of my children and grandchildren are safer, more secure, and as affluent as my life has been because of my parents and grandparents.’ Today, in this ratification, we are ensuring that we will be strong in our strength, we will trust but we will verify. We will make sure we can fight, if necessary, but we will also make sure we are accountable. And most important of all, with regard to the biggest threats we face--terrorism and loose nuclear materials falling into the hands of a rogue nation--we will be a safer country because of this [treaty]…”
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) opposed the treaty, arguing it constrained efforts to build a nuclear missile defense system: “I rise to oppose the START treaty because it recognizes limits on U.S. missile defenses in return for marginal reductions in the Russian arsenal. At the moment when the U.S. and allies must build missile defenses to protect against Iran, this treaty generates Russian pressure for America to go slow or risk Russia's departure from the agreement….The most important duty of the federal government is to defend Americans against foreign attack, and the most important mission under that duty is to protect American families from the most dangerous nations that could carry out such an attack.”
The Senate ratified this treaty by a vote of 71-26. All 58 Democrats and 13 Republicans voted “yea.” 26 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate ratified a nuclear weapons reduction treaty limiting the number of warheads the U.S. and Russia could maintain in their nuclear arsenals to 1,550.