Midterms Cast Doubt on START Ratification

Several of the candidates currently running for a Senate seat have expressed skepticism of further reducing America’s nuclear arsenal.

With Senate approval of the New START treaty still pending, the upcoming midterm elections for Congress cast further doubt upon its ratification. Several of the Republican candidates that are likely to secure a senatorship this November are skeptical of further downsizing America’s nuclear deterrent.

Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in Prague last April. In accordance with the agreement, which further reduces the number of nuclear warheads held operational by both former Cold War rivals, the Obama Administration is planning to take out of service some thirty missile silos, 34 nuclear bomber aircraft and 56 submarine launch tubes. Most of the bombers will be converted to conventional use. None of the Navy’s fourteen strategic nuclear submarines will be forced into retirement. Rather each will have four of its 24 launchers removed.

All in all, America’s nuclear arsenal remains sizable and well equipped to deter any potential adversary.

That’s not how the political right sees it. In combination with the administration’s pledge not to retaliate with nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states in the event of a conventional weapons attack, some conservatives describe Obama’s nuclear policy as nothing short of bizarre. In the Senate, Republicans have been scrambling for votes to defeat the treaty.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants the Senate to vote on ratification during a “lame-duck” session right after the election. But three Senate seats will change hands immediately in a week, making it all the more difficult to win the 67 votes necessary to enact the treaty.

The senators elected in Delaware, Illinois and West Virginia will begin their terms immediately after the November 2 election while the Republicans are expected to pick up somewhere between eight and ten seats in the upper house in total. Even if Democrats win in all of the three aforementioned races however, ratification is anything but certain.

Christine O’Donnell in Delaware has serious reservations and is likely to side with the Republican majority in the Senate whichever way it votes. The views of her opponent on this issue, Chris Coons, who is leading the polls, are unknown.

In Illinois, Democrat Alexi Giannoulias supports ratification of New START but his opponent, Mark Kirk, is undecided. “The congressman will review the details of the treaty carefully and make his decision based on what is in the best interest of America’s national security,” said a spokesman.

West Virginian Democratic Senate candidate Joe Manchin, who is leading his Republican opponent by an extremely slim margin, is also skeptical of New START. “Joe Manchin’s governing philosophy on defense policy will be to listen to our commanders and generals on the ground,” said a spokesman, “and before he can cast a vote for or against START II, he will need to assess their recommendations.” (START II, of course, was actually signed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin in 1993 but never ratified.) Just who those “commanders and generals” are supposed to be remains a mystery, all the more so since the Pentagon has come out in support of New START.

Manchin’s opponent, John Raese, is adamantly opposed to nuclear disarmament.