Senate Still Pondering START Ratification

Republicans are still unsure whether to ratify a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Just two weeks before the new Congress convenes, the Senate is still considering ratification of a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. The administration and the military along with a score of former foreign policymakers from both parties have supported New START but Republicans in the Senate are skeptical.

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 are 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, some Republicans have been scrambling for votes to defeat the treaty.

If New START fails ratification, “it’s a very bad picture,” said Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on ABC’s This Week. He predicted that enough members of his party will vote to enact the treaty but warned nonetheless that START is instrumental in advancing relations with the Russians — which America needs if is to sanction the nuclear weapons ambitions of Iran and North Korea. “To throw away all of those opportunities simply because some feel the Russians are no longer relevant […] seems to me is an illogical stance,” he said, “but we’re hearing a lot of that.”

Both Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois on Fox News Sunday and Vice President Joe Biden on Meet the Press were also confident that the Senate will eventually ratify New START. Biden admitted that there were “legitimate concerns” with some Republicans but after eighteen hearings and answering close to a thousand questions, some senators are just adamantly opposed to any arms control measure. “It wouldn’t matter what it said,” the vice president suggested.

Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Republicans’ point man on nuclear weapons policy, is probably one of those lawmakers who will vote against New START no matter what. On Fox News Sunday, he pledged to vote down the treaty unless he could amend it — which is highly unlikely as that would effectively force the administration to renegotiate the deal with Moscow.

The Republicans’ procrastinating in the Senate is currently threatening the Russia “reset” which, according to the president, should send “a strong signal to Russia that we are serious about reducing nuclear arsenals, but also […] to the world that we’re serious about nonproliferation.” Two more sets of legislation are held up in the upper chamber: a civilian nuclear agreement with Russia that is supposed to increase cooperation and the repeal of decade-old trade restrictions in order to let the country join the World Trade Organization.