U.S. Senators: Get to Work

December 1, 2010

Over the past seven months, a little-noticed stream of bipartisanship has flowed through the United States Senate.  Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) have shepherded the New START accord through an intensive review process and built strong, bipartisan support for the treaty from our nation’s most respected military and national security leaders.

Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is among the long list of military leaders who have urged the Senate to ratify New START.  Admiral Mullen advised, “This is a national security issue of great significance. And the sooner we get it done, the better.”  This week, several prominent conservative senators have swung their support behind Mullen and his fellow national security experts – ignoring opponents who are attempting to re-raise objections that have already been answered or dismissed.  As Sen. Lugar explained last month, “Every senator has an obligation in the national security interest to take a stand, to do his or her duty. Maybe people would prefer not to do his or her duty right now,” he said. “Sometimes when you prefer not to vote, you attempt to find reasons not to vote.”  This week, Sen. Kerry implored his colleagues to finish their work. “It is this Congress that has done the work on this treaty. It is we senators here and now, who have the constitutional responsibility to deal with this treaty. It is this Congress that has gone to these hearings, conducted this analysis, read these documents. We are the senators who have the responsibility to vote. Let’s get to work.”

Conservatives move towards supporting New START and joining national security consensus.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told George Stephanopoulos that there is still time to ratify New START before the end of the year. “I believe we can move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Sen. Kyl’s concerns and mine about missile defense and others.”  He added that Kyl’s concerns are being addressed in active negotiations. [John McCain, 11/30/10]

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), one of the Foreign Relations Committee members who voted in favor of the treaty in September, said Tuesday of the administration’s response to his concerns:  “I thought they did a good job. I think it’s continuing to evolve in a good way as it relates to modernization,” Corker said in an interview. He later added, “Could we finish? I think it’s possible that we could.” [Bob Corker, 11/30/10]

Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) is now “leaning toward its ratification – and wants a vote this year,” the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.  “There seems to be a lot of coming together there and a lot more comfort [with the treaty] among our friends and allies in Europe,” Sen. Voinovich said. “I think I’d be supportive.” [George Voinovich, 11/30/10]

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), the newly seated senator from Illinois, said about the treaty, “I’m open-minded and this is one of the issues I’ll raise with the State Department briefing teams coming up to talk to me,” he said. [Mark Kirk, 11/30/10]

These senators join a consensus among conservative, progressive and nonpolitical national security experts as well as military leaders who have come out strongly supporting ratification:  Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Chuck Hagel, Gary Hart, Steven Pifer, Madeleine Albright, Admiral Michael Mullen, George Shultz, Samuel Berger, Steven Hadley, and every former Strategic Command (the military’s combatant command center in charge of nuclear strategy) commander  – to name just a few.  [NSN, 7/8/10. Consensus for American Security, 11/18/10]

“We can get these things done”:  past treaties have moved in 2-5 days of floor time.  In 1992, it took five days of floor time for the Senate to approve START I.  In 2003, the Senate approved the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) after just two days of floor debate.  It is the duty of Congress to conduct America’s business.  Over the weekend, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for movement. “People across America, who subscribe to cable, ask for refunds when they turn on C-Span and see the Senate sit there day after day doing nothing, lurching from filibuster to filibuster.  Come on, let’s be reasonable, let’s be constructive, let’s be bipartisan.  We can get these things done.  Let’s roll up our sleeves and do it.”  Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has strongly urged the Senate to bring New START to the floor, saying, “I’m advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay,” he said. “I think when it finally comes down to it, we have sufficient number or senators who do have a sense of our national security. This is the time, this is the priority. Do it.”  [Meet the Press, 11/28/10. Sen. Lugar via the Cable, 11/17/10]

Rumors of “secret deals” with Russia on missile defense are a clear example of what Sen. Lugar called “attempts to find reasons not to vote.”  Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) explained on the floor this week that, “the single most significant question about the substance of this treaty has been whether it limits our missile defenses, which we need to counteract rogue states. Unequivocally, the answer is no, it does not. The Secretary of Defense says it does not. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says it does not. The commander of our nuclear forces says it does not. The director of the Missile Defense Agency says it does not. Again and again, senior military leaders have said unambiguously that this treaty does not limit our missile defense plans. So, the chief substantive concern about this treaty has been laid to rest.” As the State Department detailed this morning, “The Administration has repeatedly made clear that it is pursuing missile defense cooperation with Russia. As one example, at a June 17 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Gates stated: ‘Separately from the treaty, we are discussing missile defense cooperation with Russia, which we believe is in the interests of both nations. But such talks have nothing to do with imposing any limitations on our programs or deployment plans.’”  State further noted, the administration believes “missile defense cooperation with the Russian Federation is in the national security interests of the United States, as did the Bush Administration. Restrictions or limitations on U.S. missile defense capabilities are not under discussion in any forum. At Lisbon, NATO and Russia agreed to resume theater missile defense exercises and discuss ways where they could potentially cooperate on territorial missile defense in the future.”  [John Kerry, 11/29/10. State Department, 12/1/10]

Ratification of New START remains an urgent priority for U.S. national security.  One of the principle components of New START is its stringent verification regime, central to  getting U.S. boots back on the ground to inspect Russia’s nuclear arsenal.  We are approaching the one year mark of the expiration of the original START agreement and the lapse in inspections.  As the Washington Post wrote this summer, “For the first time in 15 years, U.S. officials have lost their ability to inspect Russian long-range nuclear bases, where they had become accustomed to peering into missile silos, counting warheads and whipping out tape measures to size up rockets.  The inspections had occurred every few weeks under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. But when START expired in December, the checks stopped.”

Richard Burt, the chief U.S. negotiator under George H.W. Bush for the original START treaty, expressed the urgency of ratification: “I think that — that the lame-duck session is the best opportunity to get this treaty ratified, with the least amount of political damage to the U.S.-Russia relationship and the credibility of the United States worldwide.” [Washington Post, 8/17/10. Richard Burt via PBS, 11/17/10]

What We’re Reading

The U.S. has announced new sanctions on Iran’s shipping lines.

Belarus announced that it will give up its stockpile of nuclear material by 2012.

The U.N. is seeking $530 million for aid projects in Somalia.

Hamas says it would honor the results of a Palestinian referendum on peace with Israel.

Haitian protesters clashed with U.N. troops while demanding cancellation of the recent presidential election.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to play a larger role in Afghanistan.

A court in Uganda has released 18 of the suspects charged in connection with last summer’s World Cup bombing.

Spain arrested seven people suspected of forging passports for al Qaeda.

The leaders of President Obama’s deficit commission released a final report full of political dynamite, including sharp cuts in military spending, a higher retirement age and tax reforms that would cost the average taxpayer an extra $1,700 a year.

Brazil may keep troops stationed in Rio’s most dangerous slum into next year.

Pakistan is seeking life imprisonment for five young Americans convicted of plotting terrorist attacks and sentenced to 10 years each in jail.

The federal government has completed taking over the task of matching the names of airline passengers against the terror watch list. Officials say the change, announced by the Transportation Security Administration, should reduce false matches, while also making it somewhat harder for terrorists to carry out an attack.

Commentary of the Day

USA Today urges the Senate to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the U.S. military.

In celebration of World AIDS Day, George W. Bush writes that the fight against AIDS is important to national security and it demonstrates America’s character.

Matt Duss considers how the Wikileaks cables have bolstered neoconservative calls for a U.S. military strike on Iran, displaying a sudden turnaround in their belief that we take seriously what Arab leaders have been saying about instability in the Middle East.

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