Obama Urges New START Approval This Year

(Dec. 13) -President Obama shown at center yesterday at a holiday event, last week called on the U.S. Senate to ratify the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty before adjourning for the year (Getty Images).
(Dec. 13) -President Obama shown at center yesterday at a holiday event, last week called on the U.S. Senate to ratify the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty before adjourning for the year (Getty Images).

President Obama last week called for the U.S. Senate to ratify a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia prior to adjourning for the year, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Dec. 9).

"The START treaty is something that I absolutely think has to get done before Congress leaves for Christmas vacation," Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio. "We're going to keep on working the numbers. And hopefully, we're going to be able to get it done."

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START in April. The treaty would obligate the United States and Russia to limit their fielded strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550, down from a limit of 2,200 required by 2012 under an earlier accord. It also would set a limit of 700 deployed warhead delivery systems, with another 100 allowed in reserve.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said he believed the pact would be ratified, after both of Maine's senators, Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, said they would support ratification. Previously, Senator Richard Lugar (Ind.) was the only Republican in the chamber to state he would vote in favor of the pact this year.

"We're going to get more than 67 votes," Gibbs said, addressing the number of senators who must vote yes for the pact to enter into force.

In this Congress, a minimum of nine Republican votes are required for treaty passage. Following November midterm election gains, at least 14 GOP senators would be needed for ratification in the new year. Time is growing short for treaty passage, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants to conclude the chamber's business on Friday.

"I am confident that New START will provide predictability in our relationship with Russia and thus enhance global stability, and most importantly, our national security," Snowe said in a released statement.

Issues with ensuring Russian compliance with the pact, plans for U.S. missile defense and the maintenance and modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal "have been satisfactorily resolved," Snowe said. However, she conditioned her backing on allowing time for"sufficient debate and amendments."

Collins, in a separate statement, lauded the treaty and attributed her support to statements from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates regarding administration efforts to curtail Moscow's deployed stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons (see GSN, Dec. 1).

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on Friday that the Obama administration and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the GOP point man on the matter, were "very close" to reaching an agreement that might allow a treaty vote this week.

McCain cautioned that the White House had "overhyped" the treaty's value in strengthening relations between the Untied States and Russia.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in released marks that he was in talks with GOP lawmakers to begin New START debate "in the coming days" (Olivier Knox, Agence France-Presse/Google News, Dec. 10).

Russian lawmakers are widely expected to sign off on the pact, but are waiting to see how the situation develops in Washington before taking action.

A spokesman for Lugar said on Friday that New START supporters now have enough GOP backers lined up to pass the treaty, Bloomberg reported. Mark Helmke said proponents want Reid to schedule a treaty vote "as soon as possible."

Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Robert Bennett (R-Utah) have indicated their support for the agreement. Both men will not be returning to Congress next year.

Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) both approved a Foreign Relations Committee resolution supporting New START ratification (Bloomberg/Moscow Times, Dec. 13).

However, a majority of GOP senators continue to oppose treaty passage, according to National Review magazine. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) declared on Friday that he would vote against the arms control pact.

“I fear it will have a negative impact on our national security, and the United States must be assured that any arms treaty it agrees to will not limit our ability to defend against growing international threats,” he said in a statement.

Kyl, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said a full Senate debate on the treaty is still not probable before the upper house adjourns for the year. While Kyl's views on the pact hold particular sway within his party, it is not evident that his influence alone would be enough to keep other Republicans from voting for treaty passage (Robert Costa, National Review, Dec. 13).

Republican views that New Start would constrain U.S. missile defense options remain a major hurdle in securing enough votes for treaty passage, the Washington Post reported yesterday.

"Missile defense remains a major point of disagreement between the United States and Russia, and this treaty only makes the situation worse," Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) asserted in a recent National Review commentary.

Some GOP members want to amend the Senate ratification resolution while others say the actual pact requires amendments, which could lead to its failure.

Pact backers say criticisms on missile defense are overblown and merely a political ploy. Missile defense is barely addressed at all in the 300 pages of treaty text and annexes.

Obama has maintained many of the Bush administration's missile defense guidelines, according to the Post. Last year, the administration unveiled a revised plan for a European missile shield that centers on deploying land- and sea-based Standard Missile 3 interceptors around Europe as a hedge against potential medium- and short-range missile attacks from the Middle East. The initiative replaces a divisive Bush-era plan to field 10 long-range missile interceptors in Poland (see GSN, Nov. 22).

"One of the great ironies, is [Obama] made sure there was no way to attack the treaty as being tough on missile defense. And yet that's exactly one of the main rationales used by treaty critics," Arms Control Association senior fellow Greg Thielmann said.

Fearing that U.S. missile defense plans would undermine its own nuclear deterrent, Russia has ardently objected to various Washington's initiatives to build up European antimissile capabilities. Moscow last month, however, agreed, to participate in a joint analysis with NATO on ways the two sides can collaborate on a continent-wide missile shield.

In New START negotiations, the Kremlin unsuccessfully sought to have the United States agree to curtail its missile defense plans. The two former Cold War antagonists ultimately agreed on nonbinding treaty preamble language that acknowledges the "interrelationship" between missile defense and nuclear arms.

Still, GOP members are worried the language might be used as a political reason for not pursuing missile defense objectives, former Bush administration arms control official Christopher Ford said.

"One imagines it could become an argument against more robust missile-defense programming in the United States," Ford said. "Not a legal one, but 'Oh my God, we can't do that or the Russians will blow a gasket and withdraw from the treaty.'"

Moscow has released an independent statement saying it would withdraw from New START if it decides U.S. missile defense plans threaten the two nations' strategic balance. The Obama administration replied by saying it would "continue improving and deploying its missile defense systems."

U.S. Missile Defense Agency chief Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly has said the arms control pact would actually eliminate past missile defense limits imposed on the United States (Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Dec. 12).

Probable Republican contenders for the party's 2012 presidential nomination are coming out against New START ratification, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

"It's an obsolete approach that's a holdover from the Cold War and a bilateral treaty without taking into account multilateral threats," one-time House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Wednesday.

Thune, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, ex-Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty have all strongly opposed the treaty. Their opposition increases the likelihood that support or opposition for the arms control pact would become a key presidential campaign issue.

Republican presidential candidates are expected to use their opposition to the treaty to bolster their foreign policy credentials and uphold the Republican Party's historically perceived strength on national security concerns (Liz Sidoti, Associated Press/Google News, Dec. 9).

December 13, 2010

President Obama last week called for the U.S. Senate to ratify a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia prior to adjourning for the year, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Dec. 9).