After 26 hearings, briefings and executive sessions, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will finally vote on the New START Treaty at 9:30 am on September 16th. START will be overwhelmingly approved in Committee, and only two lawmakers took an active opposition role during the hearings. On the other hand, only one Republican Senator has so far come out in strong support of START.
The real challenge will be on the Senate floor where 67 votes are needed for ratification. With an election only a few weeks away, a floor vote will not be scheduled unless Democrats are confident of victory. If they are not able to secure a victory before November or in a lame duck session, prospects for New START would be grim. Several key Treaty supporters will not be on Capitol Hill next year, and many observers expect New START to be approved in a lame duck session after the election.
The Treaty was signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, and it cuts nuclear arsenals by 30 percent. Each side would be reduced from 2,200 warheads to no more than 1,550.
The stockpile of nuclear-armed long-range missiles and bombers would be reduced to 700 each. The original START accord expired in December, and there have not been any inspections since then. New START will allow both the U.S. and Russia to have 18 on-site inspections every year. The following lawmakers have already announced their support of New START: Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jim Webb (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). When asked if he expects the Treaty to be ratified, Lugar said “I am not predicting anything.”
While they have not made a public commitment, Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are also expected to vote yes. Senators Jim Risch (R-ID), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) claim to be undecided, while Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) are firm opponents. Opposition to the treaty will be led by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee.
The Treaty will also be a factor in presidential politics in that former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) is a solid foe, and will be using this issue to appeal to the conservative base. Romney says this is Obama’s “worst foreign policy mistake yet,” and the Governor’s viewpoint is unusual because it places him in opposition to many of his GOP establishment supporters.
Treaty supporters include prominent Republicans such as former Secretaries of State George Schulz, Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Colin Powell. Former Defense Secretary Jim Schlesinger and former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley are also Treaty boosters. New START has the backing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and seven retired Generals who previously held the top job at the Strategic Air Command are also START advocates.
The opening statement in opposition to the Treaty on Thursday morning will be made by Senator DeMint. During the last hearing he said:
The concessions President Obama made to Russia to get the New START signed are precisely why the Senate should not ratify it. New START is another Obama giveaway at the expense of U.S. citizens. The treaty mandates strategic nuclear weapons parity with the progeny of an old Cold War foe, yet allows the Russians to maintain a 10-to-1 tactical nuclear-weapons advantage. Whether in warhead and launcher limits, verification, or missile defense, America loses. The treaty dampens the U.S. ability to defend against missile attacks and makes America and her allies vulnerable to rogue nations while receiving nothing for our concessions.The Obama administration champions the fact that the treaty would limit both countries to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads each. But Russia could maintain its huge stockpile of roughly 4,000 tactical nuclear weapons, thousands more than the United States has, because the treaty doesn’t restrict those types, which can also be affixed to rockets, submarines, and attack aircraft.
The original START Treaty and 2002 Moscow Treaty also did not address tactical (or short range) nuclear weapons, which Russia now has targeted on Europe. This was because the U.S. unilaterally got rid of them in 1991-1992. Lugar believes the issue of tactical nukes should be addressed in a future treaty. Senator Lugar also says Russian compliance has always been a concern, but reminds his colleagues they approved the Moscow Treaty (2002) which had no verification. Lugar also claims the Treaty will have no impact on America’s ability to develop future anti-missile systems, nor will it stop the modernization of the present U.S. nuclear stockpile.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) of the Armed Services Committee disagrees, and says:
We originally were told that there would be no references to missile defense in the treaty and no linkage drawn between offensive and defensive weapons. However, one section includes a clear, legally binding limitation on our missile defense options. Why did the administration agree to this language after saying they would do no such thing? We’re insisting on an opportunity to review the negotiating record for ourselves, specifically those parts dealing with the ambiguous references to missile defense.
McCain believes a contributing factor to the fall of the USSR and the end of the Cold War was Ronald Reagan’s refusal to give up development of an anti-ballistic missile system. The Senator says he does not want to see this happen now in the New START Treaty.
UPDATE, Thursday, September 16 – The debate lasted all day, but the New START Treaty was just approved by the Foreign Relations Committee by a 14 to 4 vote. GOP Senators Richard Lugar (IN), Johnny Isakson (GA) and Bob Corker (TN) supported the Treaty. New START requires 67 votes for passage on the Senate floor which means five more Republicans must vote yes to secure its ratification.