Passage of the New START treaty at the end of the 111th Congress should have been what Ploughshares Fund president and nuclear weapons expert Joseph Cirincione called a “no-brainer.” It is, after all, a renewal of a treaty originally negotiated by President Reagan and it will make America safer.
Yet the fact that herculean effort was required to win Senate ratification of a modest arms reduction treaty is a stark reminder of how tough it will be to strike needed, more far-reaching agreements — for example, slashing tactical nuclear weapons and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The cynical Republican leadership mounted a ferocious and often mendacious opposition campaign to ratification of START. It was striking during the debate just how far this extremist GOP has strayed from common sense or rational thinking on national security. In its misguided determination to weaken the President and score political points, Senators Kyl, DeMint and McConnell, to name just a few, chose to repudiate urgent calls from scores of high level military and bipartisan political leaders, including the current and eight former commanders of the Strategic Command, the Defense Secretary, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the head of the Missile Defense Agency, who all urged swift approval of the treaty.
In the end, only 13 Republicans voted to support the treaty; the majority chose retrograde party ideology over commonsense security.
New START is significant, yet modest. It restores rigorous inspections that ended with the expiration of START I in December 2009, and reduces nuclear stockpiles to 1550 warheads and 700 launchers on each side. These new limits on nukes are about one-third lower than the previous ones negotiated in the 2002 Moscow Treaty, and that’s a step forward to be heralded. After all, as General Eisenhower once observed—even as he was building up the US nuclear arsenal—nuclear weapons are not weapons of war, they are weapons of genocide. Just contemplate that one hundred warheads used against the hundred largest cities of either the US or Russia would mean the effectual end of that country and the killing of millions. The survival 20 years after the end of the Cold War of 1550 warheads that each country still points at the other—on hair-trigger alert—should lead us to take far bolder steps toward a safer world, eventually free of nuclear weapons. This is no longer a radical idea; it is the new realism.
But largely as a result of the price exacted by Republicans for Senate ratification, President Obama has had to promise billions to “modernize” the nuclear arsenal—approximately $85 billion over ten years—and commit this country to pursuit of a missile defense program that remains unworkable and unproven, and could also complicate Russian ratification which is slated to occur this month.