The Senate Works Through START

December 17, 2010

As the Senate enters its third day of debate on New START, top military and national security officials continued to call for its prompt ratification.  Even as Republican leadership aides agree that it is “very likely” the treaty will be ratified, a fringe group of conservatives has opted to take on our national security establishment over the treaty.  But procedural delays have replaced substantive debates, and the most trenchant opposition comes from figures who have not been involved in the debate – a slew of undeclared 2012 presidential candidates.  As the Senate waits to debate any substantive amendments to the treaty, a larger trend is unfolding as conservatives struggle to define their national security platform against solid expert agreement on the way forward.

Military leaders dismiss conservative obstruction, urge prompt ratification.   “U.S. military leaders dismissed Republican claims that a new arms treaty with Russia would hamper America’s missile defense efforts as supporters tried Thursday to nudge the pact toward ratification in the Senate,” AP reported yesterday.  “Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Marine Gen. James Cartwright rejected Republican charges that the agreement would curtail American missile defense options. ‘This treaty in no way limits anything we want or have in mind on missile defense,’ Gates said Thursday,” reported another AP story. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright, went even further, dismissing GOP attempts to delay New START and urged prompt ratification of the treaty at a White House press conference, insisting, “We need START, and we need it badly.” [AP, 12/16/10. AP, 12/16/10. James Cartwright via Reuters, 12/16/10]

Procedural delays replace substantive debate.  Several Senators have expressed major concerns with the treaty but no substantive amendments or critiques have followed.  Yesterday, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) summed up the status of debate on the treaty: “We’re ready to vote on the treaty. The only thing we’re waiting for are the people who say we don’t have time.”

Friday marks the third day of debate on the New START Treaty. Already the treaty has taken longer to debate than the SORT Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, START II and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. The original START Treaty, which was ratified in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, took five days of floor time (four days of actual debate).  [NSN, 12/7/10]

Perambulatory language on missile defense and offensive systems is merely a statement of fact.  As in previous U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreements, New START contains perambulatory language that acknowledges the “the interrelationship of strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms.” The preamble does not require or prohibit the United States from doing anything-it is simply a matter of reality, which the previous administration also understood.  In July 2001, then Presidents Bush and Putin released a joint statement, stating, “We agreed that major changes in the world require concrete discussions of both offensive and defensive systems. We already have some strong and tangible points of agreement. We will shortly begin intensive consultations on the interrelated subjects of offensive and defensive systems.”  Then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld met with his Russian counterpart in August 2001 and further explained, “We agreed that it is perfectly appropriate to discuss offensive and defensive capabilities together.”

Those who have suggested that the treaty’s preamble should be amended are only seeking to kill New START.  This is a dangerous and unnecessary ploy.  No arms control treaty preamble has ever been amended.  No arms control treaty text has ever been amended.  Such action would require that the treaty be renegotiated with the Russians.  Sen. Lugar (R-IN) wrote to his Republican colleagues yesterday, saying, “In anticipation of our consideration of the New START Treaty, some have advocated that the preamble to the Treaty be amended to address concerns regarding missile defense.  I believe that this course is unnecessary and will not ultimately serve U.S. interests.” [Presidents Bush and Putin, 7/22/01. Rumsfeld, 8/13/01. Sen Lugar, 12/16/10]

What We’re Reading

North Korea vowed to retaliate with greater firepower if South Korea goes ahead with its planned live-fire drills from the frontline island that has been devastated by North Korean shelling.

In her first major report on foreign policy, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, acknowledged that Washington was focusing less on Europe, and warned that the bloc would need to show more unity if it hoped to change that dynamic.

Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin said that an outburst of nationalist violence proves that the country cannot allow law enforcement to weaken, despite the arguments of Russia’s “liberal intelligentsia.”

A group of American embassy staffers came under attack when a bomb was thrown near their vehicle outside a restaurant in Yemen’s capital.

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani offered Tehran his ministry’s support and experience in fighting terror, after a suicide bomber killed 34 people in southeastern Iran.

More than 12,000 people have died this year in Mexico’s drug war, making it the deadliest year since President Felipe Calderon launched a government crackdown against traffickers in 2006.

Lebanon is bracing for bloodshed over a report into the killing of former leader Rafik Hariri that is expected to accuse Hezbollah.

Southern Sudan is likely to vote to secede from Sudan in a referendum next month, said Nan aide to President Umar al-Bashir.

The U.S. military command in Afghanistan has revised secret guidelines for nighttime raids, placing additional safeguards on kill-or-capture missions that are cited in a new White House strategic review as an effective tool in countering the Taliban.

International pressure is growing on Ivory Coast incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo to cede power to opposition leader Alassane Ouattara after last month’s disputed presidential election.

Commentary of the Day

Ahmed Rashid says that reaching tenable “end-state” in Afghanistan Taliban will require reciprocal confidence-building measures by Pakistan, Iran and India as well as by the Taliban and the West.

Kishan Manocha writes that Tehran’s persecution of its religious minorities violates its own constitution in an open letter to the Islamic Republic.

Nathan Cox insists that as an active-duty U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer, what matters in the armed forces isn’t sexual orientation – it’s job performance.

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