For months Republicans have managed to stall ratification of President Barack Obama’s nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. Now that they have strengthened their position in both houses of Congress, the administration is afraid that New START will never be enacted — and that could seriously undermine relations with Russia in the near future.
The Obama Administration was quick to acknowledge the necessity of reassessing the United States’ Russia strategy last year. After eight years of relative neglect, Russia had become more assertive and more obstructionist by the time Obama took office. Intent on gaining influence in the Arctic as well as in Central Asia, the likelihood of confrontation between both superpowers in the future may have only increased however.
Despite an attempt at “resetting” relations and greatening cooperation, the only notable foreign policy success achieved with regard to Russia so far has been the signing of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in April of this year in Prague. The treaty was delayed for many months while American and Russian negotiators squabbled over the planned erection of an American missile shield system in Central Europe. New START was monumental nonetheless. America’s nuclear arsenal remains sizable in spite of it but the agreement is integral to the president nonproliferation agenda. As he recently put it, the treaty has sent “a strong signal to Russia that we are serious about reducing nuclear arsenals, but also […] to the world that we’re serious about nonproliferation.”
But the Senate — the conservative part of it in particular — has been skeptical. constitutionally the president is bound to seek approval from the upper chamber of Congress for any treaty he signs. No vote on New START has been called yet as members of the president’s party have been trying to convince Republicans to vote in favor. They worry that in combination with the administration’s formal pledge not to retaliate with nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states in the event of a conventional weapons attack, Obama’s nuclear policy is both naive and dangerous.
The Republicans’ electoral successes in last week’s midterm elections only casts further doubt upon ratification of New START. Several newly-elected Republican senators have already voiced their opposition to the treaty and nuclear disarmament in general.
Ratification of New START is not the only Russia related piece of legislation currently held up in Congress. The administration also wants legislators to sign off on a civilian nuclear agreement that is supposed to increase cooperation and repeal decade-old trade restrictions so Russia can join the World Trade Organization.
Critics fear that without ratification of New START, renewed cooperation in other fields, such as combating terrorism and sanctioning Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons program, could be in jeopardy.
The president has urged the Senate to vote on ratification before the end of the year in a “lame-duck” session that doesn’t yet include senators elected in November’s midterm elections. He has urged members of the opposition to consider that “this is not a traditionally Democratic or Republican issue but rather an issue of American national security.”