National Security Network

New START vs. The Fringe

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Report 15 December 2010

Non-Proliferation New START


The New START accord comes to the floor later today with Senate leadership affirming that it has the 67 votes required, and more days for debate than past treaties have required.  The treaty enjoys the unanimous backing of the United States military leadership and overwhelming bipartisan support.  It has now been over a year since we've had U.S. inspectors on the ground in Russia to inspect its nuclear facilities.  New START preserves our ability to deploy effective missile defenses; it is accompanied by unprecedented long-term funding to ensure our nuclear stockpile remains safe, secure and effective; and it will reinstate a stringent verification regime that our military planners say is essential.  What is debated on the Senate floor will be less about the treaty itself and more about two visions of our national security:  the tested, pragmatic views of our national security leaders versus the views of a small ideological fringe.

Military leaders have repeatedly attested that New START is essential to our national security.  New START ensures strategic stability between the world's two largest nuclear powers and reinstates a stringent verification regime that gives our military planners critical insight into Russia's nuclear arsenal.  The Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Energy, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, the director of the Missile Defense Agency, the directors of the nation's three national laboratories, high-ranking members of the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 administrations-including George H.W. Bush and every former living secretary of state, the Treaty's negotiators, high-ranking intelligence officials, and numerous outside experts-have all unequivocally endorsed New START. 

The Senate has the votes and time to ratify New START.    AFP reported yesterday, "Asked whether the accord would net the 67 votes needed for ratification and whether he would bring the agreement to a vote this year, as Obama has requested, [Senate Majority Leader] Reid replied: ‘Yes. The answer is yes on both.'"  As Sen. Lugar said last month, "I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number of senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it."  [Sen. Reid via AFP, 12/14/10. Sen. Lugar via the Cable, 11/17/10]

Arms control treaties take an average of three to four days on the Senate floor.  

  • In 2003, the Senate approved the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) after just two days of floor debate. 
  • The Chemical Weapons Convention was approved in 1997-also after just two days of floor time. 
  • The year before that, the Senate approved START II after just two days of consideration. 
  • In 1992, it took five days of floor time (four days of actual debate) for the Senate to approve START I. 
  • In 1991, the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty was approved after two days. 
  • Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the INF Treaty was submitted, cleared and ratified in just four months time.  The treaty eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons and only required nine days of floor debate. 

Choice between national security and political maneuvering.  After conservative point man Jon Kyl voiced no substantive objections to moving forward with New START and said less than two weeks ago that "there might be time" to vote on the Treaty - the Arizona Senator "said Tuesday that he ‘will work very hard' to ensure that the treaty is not ratified if it's brought to the Senate floor in the waning days of the lame duck session."  Kyl told reporters, "I let the Majority Leader know that's an issue for a lot of my colleagues... And if he does bring it up, I will work very hard to achieve that result, namely that the treaty fails."  Opposition on the merits is now limited to a small group of ideologues - Frank Gaffney, Rick Santorum, John Bolton, Newt Gingrich - whose worldview simply excludes pragmatic partnership with powers such as Russia.  One of the worst offenders has been Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who has displayed not only a shaky grasp on history, but on national security fundamentals.  Appearing at an event sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative, DeMint made a series of astonishing comments, confusing Russia with the Soviet Union:  "As I look at...the proposed START treaty...we had a lot of hope that Russia would become democratic and a free market...those things have really not we look at who we're doing business with...clearly the USSR as a democracy is a fraud...very little free market activity...the rule of law is very loose...murders go unpunished...the USSR...Russia...It's synonymous, remember, the Russians are coming."

In addition to this ideological worldview, there is also a political dynamic at play.  Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations puts this in a broader context, "Cast aside any doubts. There seems to be nothing Republicans won't do to deny President Obama a political success at home-even if it means jeopardizing U.S. national security." Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank explains that dynamic, taking GOP foot-dragging to its logical conclusion: "Republicans seem to have entered a post-post-9/11 era, in which national security is no longer a higher priority than their interest in undermining President Obama."  [Sen. Kyl via MSNBC, 12/14/10. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) via FPI, 6/24/10. Leslie Gelb, 11/18/10. Dana Milbank, 11/21/10]

What We're Reading

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up near a mosque in southeastern Iran, killing at least 38 people at a Shiite mourning ceremony.

North Korea appears to be readying for a possible third nuclear test as early as next March, as New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson headed to Pyongyang on an unofficial diplomatic foray.

President Obama met for nearly two hours with top national security aides to give final approval to a year-end review of his war strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan before a summary of the assessment is publicly released.

India and China should be partners, not competitors, as the world tilts toward Asia, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China said in a speech to hundreds of businessmen from both countries.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez asked parliament to grant him sweeping legislative powers, for the fourth time since he took office in 1999. The request comes just weeks before a new national assembly with a much greater opposition presence is due to be inaugurated.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs' call to subject its nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Kosovo's prime minister is the head of a "mafia-like" Albanian group responsible for smuggling weapons, drugs and human organs through eastern Europe, according to a Council of Europe inquiry.

Mexico's Congress voted overwhelmingly to strip parliamentary immunity from a congressman accused of links to a drug cartel, the first time a sitting Mexican lawmaker has faced charges of ties to organized crime.

Lebanon's polarized cabinet will reconvene after five weeks out of session because of disagreements regarding the international tribunal investigating the assassination in 2005 of the country's prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

A referendum to decide the fate of an oil-rich province of Sudan is unlikely to be held on time as northerners and southerners remain locked in an impasse over issues that include voting rights, demarcation of borders and oil revenue.

Commentary of the Day

Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (ret.) and Heather Hurlburt discuss the growing progressive-realist-centrist axis of agreement that has emerged with regards to the U.S. role in Afghanistan.

Thomas Friedman suggests we need to rethink how America responds to a rising superpower (think China) and a rising group of superempowered individuals (think WikiLeakers), both are currently challenging the world system.

Harsh V. Pant writes that serious concerns about the trajectory of Indian defense policy stand in sharp contrast to hyperbolic talk of India's military rise.