Normally, an agreement with Russia to reduce nuclear stockpiles by one-third would not be a controversial matter, but 2010 is proving anything but normal in Washington D.C. As a result, the new START treaty negotiated by President Obama may end up dying in the Senate, with potentially disastrous consequences for the entire world.
The START treaty follows the mold of former START treaties negotiated by President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush. The new treaty limits the amount of nuclear warheads for each country (in this case 1,550 warheads) and provides for a verification system. The current agreement would require each country to reduce its stockpile by about one third, which would still allow each country to blow up the world many times over. In comparison, China is the world’s third largest nuclear power and it has only 168 nuclear warheads. By reducing our own nuclear stockpile, we could decrease the significant costs associated with maintaining them. Russia’s stockpile reduction would lower the risks that weapons could be taken and smuggled into countries like Iran. Finally, by reducing the number of warheads and delivery devices, both countries also decrease the risk for an accidental launch.
All of these sound like perfectly good reasons for the Senate to ratify the new START treaty. However, Republicans are manufacturing some reasons to oppose it.
First, the Republicans argued that our nuclear “defense” system needs to be updated. The President attempted to relieve these concerns by agreeing to request $4.1 billion to update the remaining nuclear arsenal. Despite this concession, Republicans are still not signaling their support for the new agreement.
Secondly, Republicans argue that the United States would be limited in some way if we ratify the treaty. In a way, this is true, as we would be required to reduce the number of our own nuclear warheads. However, as mentioned above, we still would maintain more than enough of a deterrence threat with our remaining nuclear arsenal. Republicans certainly did not sound the same alarm when Presidents Bush and Reagan “limited” the nuclear capability of the United States with START I and II. Some Republicans claim that the agreement will keep the United States from developing a missile defense shield, but there is no such limit in the actual treaty terms. In fact, the United States is still actively developing a missile defense system on the West Coast and in Europe.
Finally, the Republicans are also hesitant to vote for the treaty because it would give the President another legislative victory. This is the big “unsaid” reason that the GOP has for its opposition. In the unbelievably partisan America of today, any cooperation with the President is seen as bad for Republicans. President Obama may have more success getting Republican votes if he came out against his own treaty (and I am only half joking on that point). Opposing the President, no matter what he does, has been a very successful strategy for Republicans over the last two years. Now that Republicans have gained a majority in the House, they have no reason to change now.
The problem with the Republican opposition is that it has much larger implications this time around. If the treaty is not ratified, there will be no more agreement between the two countries as the previous START treaties expire. As a result, there also will be no verification system to see what Russia is doing with its nuclear stockpiles. The Pentagon has already said that without a verification process, it will have to divert spy satellites to start monitoring Russia (currently the satellites are being used to survey Iraq and Afghanistan). Without the verification process of START, Russia literally could send five nuclear warheads to Iran, with the United States having no clue. Could Russia do this even with a new START treaty? Possibly. But it would certainly be harder since every nuclear warhead is physically accounted for under the verification process. With no treaty, the emergence of another dangerous “arms race” is possible, in which both countries build up more deadly weapons, for fear of what the other might or might not be developing.
The potentially deadly ramifications from not ratifying the treaty have caused one Republican to call on his colleagues to support the treaty. Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) is hardly known as one to cooperate with President Obama, but in this case, Lugar urges Republicans to “do your duty for your country” by ratifying the treaty.
It is one thing when Republican opposition keeps a federal judge from taking the bench, or unemployed people from receiving their benefits. It is quite another thing when partisan politics endanger national security.