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What are New START’s Chances? October 21, 2010

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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The New START treaty was signed in April between Presidents Obama and Medvedev and will reduce both countries deployed strategic nuclear weapons by 30%. Additionally it will reimpose a verifications process on each country’s nuclear arsenal consisting of on-site monitoring, data exchanges, and more. New START replaces the original START treaty which President Reagan helped negotiate and which was ratified by a vote of 93-6 while President H.W. Bush was in office. START 1 received such overwhelming bipartisan support because it’s one of the rare no-brainer political issues. Reducing nuclear weapons and improving transparency and cooperation with Russia through inspections makes the United States much safer.

The New START treaty is having an extremely tough time getting ratified in today’s Senate. Why? Because the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that they are willing to abandon common-sense national security in order to stymie a foreign policy victory for the president and his party. However, military and foreign policy experts, from both sides of the political divide, all agree that ratifying this treaty is essential. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chairman of the JCS Mike Mullen, seven former commanders of US Strategic Command, Henry Kissinger, and more ALL adamantly believe ratifying New START is crucial to our national security in multiple ways.

Currently all Democratic Senators plus the two Independents, as well as four Republicans are in favor of ratification. Due to the intense political partisanship the Republicans who have voted in favor can be labeled as courageous though I hesitate to do so because, like I said, ratification is a no-brainer. Thus for their “courage” they should be named: Sens. Richard Lugar, Johnny Isakson, Bob Corker, and Bob Bennett.

So that puts the public whip count at 64. To ratify a treaty you need a 2/3 supermajority, or 67 votes. No doubt the White House has been meeting assiduously with the few Republican Senators who are not ideologically backwards (Senator DeMint) and might be persuaded to vote for ratification.

Democrats first wanted a vote in June, Republicans delayed. Then Democrats wanted a vote in September or early October before Congress adjourned for the elections; again, Republicans delayed. The White House and Senate Majority Leader have made clear that New START is a priority in the lame duck session. Will it come up for a vote?

It seems to me unlikely that New START will come to a vote in the lame duck session. I don’t mean to be a naysayer but I do think its chances are slim. Senator John Kerry has estimated that three legislative days would be needed to debate the issue sufficiently on the floor. Given the other high priorities facing the Senate (Omnibus Appropriations, Defense Reauthorization Act, and the Bush tax cuts) I find it hard to believe that our constantly gridlocked Senate will find three days to spare for New START.  Three days for New START in a lame duck session expected to be only 2 weeks seems improbable. Additionally, the Republican Party has given no reason to believe they wont delay further on this issue, especially if they are emboldened by big legislative victories on November 2. Worse still, one of the crucial Republican votes, Sen. Bob Bennett, lost his primary to a Tea Party conservative crazy who is expected to win the seat easily, so his vote will be gone when the new session starts in January.

The consequences of failing to ratify the New START treaty are immense. Since START 1 has expired we have gone nearly a year without verifications and inspections on Russia’s nuclear arsenal; this is unsafe and irresponsible. Failure to ratify further harms our national security by weakening our negotiating hand with nuclear-hopeful states like Iran and North Korea. Not ratifying the treaty would also be a major set back in our relations with Russia – an extremely important geopolitical relationship despite that fact seeming to fade behind news of Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Muslim World (whatever that is). If New START isn’t ratified in this Congress (only 2 weeks left of session), the treaty may not be ratified for very long time.

Ratification of New START is crucial for our national security and safety. The Republican idea that this would somehow grant the Democrats a victory is nonsense. It would be a victory for Republicans too, if they would only vote for it.  It would be a victory for the entire United States!


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