Del. Bill Janis, a Republican from Henrico, recently criticized the U.S. Senate’s ratification of the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
According to a Senate roll call, the vote in favor of ratification was 71-26, with three senators not voting.
Janis, in a Jan. 25 speech on the floor of the House of Delegates, argued the bill was rushed through the "lame duck" session of Congress despite "significant concerns among some people in the State and Defense Departments."
His comments came when he was speaking in support of a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment that would give states the collective right to repeal any law or regulation passed by Congress.
We wondered about those "significant concerns" Janis cited and looked to see if there was indeed major opposition to the treaty among former diplomats and generals.
First, a word about the pact. New START replaces the 1991 START agreement between the United States and Soviet Union. START stands for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The latest agreement was signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev.
The treaty limits each nation to 1,550 nuclear warheads, 74 percent lower than the 1991 treaty’s limits. It also contains agreements for each nation to inspect the other’s weapons facilities and exchange missile telemetry. The treaty is set to run for 10 years, with the possibility of being extended for another five years.
When we called Janis, he said his comment was based on news reports saying senators and some former members of the diplomatic corps had concerns about the treaty.
"I saw media reporting where former secretaries of state had concerns," he told us.
There are nine living people who have served as Secretary of State: Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, the current secretary of state, has backed the treaty in repeated public statements and praised its eventual ratification.
Kissinger, Shultz, Baker, Eagleburger and Powell, all of whom served Republican presidents, endorsed the treaty in a Dec. 2, 2010 editorial in The Washington Post.
Condoleezza Rice, who served under Republican George W. Bush, backed the treaty in a Dec. 7, 2010 editorial in The Wall Street Journal, though she noted her endorsement carried caveats. She said approval should be accompanied by spending to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and that the treaty should not establish a link between offensive weapons and missile defense systems.
Madeleine Albright backed the treaty in a separate editorial in The Washington Post. And Warren Christopher’s support was noted in a November statement released by the office of Vice President Joe Biden.
That means every living secretary of state endorsed the treaty. What about at the Defense Department?
When the agreement was announced in March 2010, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the treaty would "strengthen nuclear stability" and that he would work with Congress to ensure ratification.
Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, said "I, the Vice Chairman, and the Joint Chiefs, as well as our combatant commanders around the world, stand solidly behind this new treaty, having had the opportunity to provide our counsel, to make our recommendations, and to help shape the final agreements."
But what about opposition from former members of the military or diplomatic corps? After some searching we found that John Bolton, who served as Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, argued against ratifying the treaty. Bolton, writing with former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo, argued "New Start’s faults are legion. The low limits it would place on nuclear warheads ignore the enormous disparities between American and Russian global responsibilities and the importance of America’s 'nuclear umbrella' in maintaining international security."
The men also argued that the treaty would also hinder efforts by the United States to use conventional warheads in future conflicts.
We also found a joint letter opposing the treaty that included the signatures of Bolton; retired Admiral James Lyons, Jr.; retired Major Gen. Paul Vallely; retired Brig Gen. Jimmy Cash; Paula DeSutter, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance, and Implementation; Fred Iklé, a former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and Bruce Gelb, the former ambassador to Belgium.
Let’s review the evidence. In our follow-up interview, Janis said he made his comments to show that the treaty "was not without controversy." He also says he thinks the treaty was "rushed through the ‘lame duck’ Congress."
Janis has a point about the controversy; the New START treaty had more opposition in the Senate than its two predecessors. The Senate approved the New START treaty on a 71-26 vote. Only four senators opposed START II in 1996, and just six were against the original START treaty in 1992.
But he got it wrong when he said there was opposition from former secretaries of state or top brass in the United States military. And the only truly notable former diplomat we found who opposed the treaty was John Bolton. Other opponents of the treaty existed, but their combined stature is a far cry from the roster of every living secretary of state.
While trying to make a point about the sometimes-contentious treaty debate, Janis exceeded the facts. The treaty was backed by virtually every top official, past and present, at both the State Department and Defense Department. Therefore we find his statement Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.