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November 09, 2010

Dangerous and Corrosive
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Last Friday, a memo about New START Treaty was circulated to Republican Senate offices.  The memo, which ignored the fact that New START has the unanimous support of America’s military leadership and wide bipartisan support, declared that it was “NOT time for the Senate to vote” on New START.  Filled with skepticism, this memo is indicative of a “very dangerous and corrosive” trend, which Ambassador Richard Burt, chief negotiator of START 1 under George HW Bush, identified yesterday:  the real problem isn’t the treaty; it’s that some of these Republicans just don’t trust the commander in chief.

Speaking at the ACA/ Heinrich Böll event yesterday, Ambassador Burt explained:

But there is a deeper and more difficult problem here… As people describe it to me, Kyl is part of a number of Republican members of the Senate that are more worried about Obama.  And this almost kind of reminds you of some of the rhetoric you’ve heard over the last two years. And the argument is this:

Yes the treaty has some problems, but they’re not big problems, and under normal circumstances we could support it.  But you know this guy Obama has talked about eliminating all nuclear weapons. And I don’t know if we could support a treaty when Barack Obama is president.  ‘Cuz we don’t know where he is going in the long term on nuclear arms control.

And that’s a tough one it seems to me.  Because what you’re really saying there is you’re not so much interested in the details of the treaty— what it constrains, it doesn’t constrain.  You don’t trust the commander in chief.  And that is sort of the argument you’re beginning to hear.  And what I’m worried about is if that argument gets traction, particularly if the treaty isn’t ratified in a lame duck session, I think some of the new Republicans who are coming into the Senate could buy into that argument—that it’s not the treaty. It’s the president. 

And that I think would be very dangerous and very corrosive. 
[Bold face mine.]


While the Senate has meticulously examined the New START Treaty—18 hearings, 4 classified briefings, over 900 Questions for the Record— some fringe conservatives have ignored the broad, bipartisan support for New START and instead peddled false accusations about secret deals with the Soviets…err, Russians. 

Exhibit A:  The GOP New START Memo.  I’ve included excerpts below which detail the paranoia

First, the section argues that the treaty preserves the triad.  Although the treaty may very well preserve the ability of the United States to modernize its nuclear forces, it in no way answers the question of whether the Obama Administration is sufficiently committed to that end.

Next, this fact sheet section states that the Administration is providing “$10 billion in new money to modernize our nuclear complex.”  While a true statement, it actually raises the question of whether this Administration is committed to modernizing the nuclear weapons complex.

The fact sheet then asserts that the treaty provides no constraints on deploying conventional prompt global strike capabilities.  This does not answer the question of whether the Administration is committed to developing those capabilities.

Finally, the fact sheet asserts that the treaty provides no constraints on deploying the most effective missile defenses possible.  Like other statements made in this section of the fact sheet, it may be a true statement, but it certainly does not answer any questions about the Administration’s actual commitment to developing and deploying a robust missile defense system… The Administration’s commitment to its own Phased Adaptive Approach is also unclear…   [Bold face mine.]

The level of distrust here is astounding. If the authors of this memo were half as concerned about strategic stability as they appear to be about the commitments made by the President of the United States, this treaty would have passed months ago.  What does this say about their motives?  The time to vote on New START is now. Not because we’re unsure about the political landscape during the 112th Congress—because New START is essential to our national security. 

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said it best:

“This treaty is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal, our knowledge of Russian nuclear capabilities and U.S. national security overall,” Morrell said. “We’re advancing it at this time and pushing for ratification because we need this. And we need it sooner, rather than later.”

Morrell said urging action to be taken soon doesn’t mean Pentagon officials think ratification stands a better chance in the current Congress than it would with the next Congress. “We’re advancing this now because we think it is the right thing to do,” he said. “It is what’s needed by our country at this time.”


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The question they fail to answer is how the rejection (or endless delay) of New START would solve their problem. In other words, would the Administration be more likely to support PGS, nuclear modernization, or missile defense if the Senate rejected or didn't vote on START. Better question, would the appropriators in the House (who really hold the purse strings on all these modernization programs) be more likely to fund the President's priorities if START were defeated? I think the answer is "no" to both questions. So it gets back to the simple fact that they don't want this President to have this achievement.

By the way, they not only don't trust this President to actually support the priorities he says he supports, they don't believe the Admin officials or military officials are telling them the truth. They think everyone is lying to them -- about the treaty's implications for missile defense, about the absence of secret deals on missile defense, about the negotiating process and the U.S. "wins" on many of the treaty provisions. These are military and civilian officials who have taken an oath of office to defend the U.S., yet these snarky staffers accuse them, over and over, of lying. It boggles the mind. We cannot have a functioning government on any issue if this attitude is allowed to stand and spread.

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