Saturday, November 06, 2010


Will the new START treaties be held hostage still longer by the do-nothing Congress in 2010?

Will the Republicans change their stripes?--KAS



Despite Tuesday's elections, the work of the 111th Congress is far from over. Chief among the urgent tasks that must be completed before the end of the year is the ratification of the New START treaty. President Obama stated yesterday in a meeting with his cabinet that the START treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) "is something that traditionally has received strong bipartisan support. ... This is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue, but rather an issue of American national security and I'm hopeful we can get that done before we leave." The New START Treaty poses the first real test of the seriousness of the GOP as a governing party. The treaty contains modest reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arms and importantly updates and extends the verification and monitoring measures of the original START treaty, which helped maintain nuclear stability since the end of the Cold War. Thus far, the New START treaty has been one of the few areas where bipartisanship has largely prevailed. The treaty received significant bipartisan support in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote in September, and the treaty is supported by a who's who of Republican foreign policy figures. It looks as though there are the 67 votes needed to ratify the treaty in the upcoming Senate lame duck session. But despite the entire U.S. military top brass insisting that the treaty is needed now, the question remains whether the Republican leadership in the Senate will insist on being the party of no and block the treaty.

CLOCK'S TICKING: 335 days have passed since the original START treaty expired last December. Since that time, on-the-ground inspections of Russia's nuclear arsenal have stopped. Now, U.S. inspectors are sitting idle; others are simply leaving the field taking their experience and expertise with them. Meanwhile, the U.S. military's understanding of the make-up of Russia's nuclear forces is eroding. This is dangerous and poses a severe potential threat to nuclear stability. Ironically, some Republicans have attacked the treaty, because they don't trust the Russians, but without the new treaty, the U.S. will be forced to just blindly trust Russia in regards to its nuclear arsenal. The New START treaty would fix this verification gap , as it updates and extends the verification and monitoring measures that were negotiated by Ronald Reagan. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell stated, "This treaty is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal, our knowledge of Russian nuclear capabilities and U.S. national security overall. ... We're advancing it at this time and pushing for ratification because we need this. And we need it sooner, rather than later." If the New START treaty is not ratified by the end of the year, the entire ratification process would have to start from scratch, needlessly preventing the resumption of inspections of Russian nuclear sites for months, and even prompting concern about the treaty's ultimate ratification.

VOTES ARE THERE: Following the election, there have been multiple media reports speculating that the outcome of the election means trouble for New START. But in reality, the election changes almost nothing. The composition of the Senate remains virtually unchanged for the lame duck session. The only change is that instead of 59, there are now 58 Democrats and Independents in the Senate for the lame duck (due to the election of Republican Senator-elect Mark Kirk in Illinois, which will take immediate effect). For START to be ratified, it needs 67 votes. That means nine Republicans must vote ratify the treaty. While that seems impossible in the present political climate, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote in September START received the votes of three conservative Republicans: Bob Corker (R-TN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). Six more Republicans are now needed to ratify the treaty. But with the support of the four moderate Senators from New England, retiring Senators George Voinovich (R-OH) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), and potentially a number of other more moderate Senators, such as Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Lindsey Graham (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), there are enough potential Republican votes to ratify the treaty.

TEST OF THE GOP: While there may be enough Republican support to ratify the treaty, the Republican leadership in the Senate could still resort to obstructionist tactics to block the treaty from coming to the floor during the lame duck period. The New START treaty therefore represents a first clear test of the seriousness of the GOP as a governing party. The GOP is still not trusted in its ability to govern, as a recent ABC/Washington Post poll indicated, only 40 percent of the American people trust Republicans with governing the country, compared with 45 percent for Democrats. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) himself admitted yesterday that "voters didn't suddenly fall in love with Republicans." While obstructionism has been the norm in the Senate, following the election the question now becomes whether the GOP is willing to responsibly govern. Rejecting or obstructing START -- a treaty originally negotiated by Ronald Reagan and that is unanimously backed by the U.S. military and has overwhelming bipartisan support from senior foreign policy leaders, including Republican officials like Henry Kissinger, Stephen Hadley, Brent Scowcroft, James Schlessinger, Colin Powell, George Schultz, Sen. John Warner (VA), and James Baker--- would send a clear signal that the GOP is not stepping up to the challenges. John Podesta, the President of the Center for American Progress, explained last night on MSNBC that the START treaty will tell us where the GOP stands : "Will Senator McConnell... get [START] done and go along with [the President]. ... If he says no we are just going to be into obstructionism and the just-say-no-party -- we'll at least know where the Republican leadership stands."



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