If you're anywhere near my age, you'll remember the not-so-good old days of nuclear war fear: home bomb shelters, Cuban missile crisis, above ground tests in Nevada that caused radioactivity to show up in milk, and other scariness.
Almost everyone would agree that reducing nuclear arsenals is a good thing. Since 1992 this has happened through treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union (now reduced to Russia).
A New START treaty is ready to be ratified by the Senate.
Previous nuclear arms control treaties were approved by massive bipartisan margins: 93-6 in 1992 for the START I treaty signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush; 87-4 in 1996 for START II, also signed by George H.W. Bush; and 95-0 in 2003 for the Moscow Treaty signed by Republican President George W. Bush.
But now we live in the age of Senate Republican Stupid Time.
Even though a CNN poll shows that 73% of Americans want New START to be ratified, Senator Jon Kyl and other equally idiotic G.O.P. colleages are willing to put our national security at risk in an attempt to score political points.
The world’s nuclear wannabes, starting with Iran, should send a thank you note to Senator Jon Kyl. After months of negotiations with the White House, he has decided to try to block the lame-duck Senate from ratifying the New Start arms control treaty.
The treaty is so central to this country’s national security, and the objections from Mr. Kyl — and apparently the whole Republican leadership — are so absurd that the only explanation is their limitless desire to deny President Obama any legislative success.
The Republicans like to claim that they are the party of national security. We can only hope that other senators in the party will decide that the nation’s security interests must trump political maneuvering.
The treaty, the first with Russia in a decade, calls for both sides to reduce their deployed warheads modestly to 1,550 from 2,200. More important, it would restore “verification,” inspections and other exchanges of information about the American and Russian arsenals.
If the treaty founders, it would also do huge damage to American credibility just as Mr. Obama is making progress rallying many countries — including Russia — to press Iran to curb its illicit nuclear program.
Hmmmm. I thought the Republican party line after the midterm elections was "jobs, jobs, jobs." I don't think voters expected to get "nuclear proliferation, nuclear proliferation, nuclear proliferation."
Yesterday I listened on satellite radio's POTUS (Politics of the United States, a great channel, intelligent and factual) to a press conference featuring Secretary of State Clinton, Senator John Kerry, and Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican who is an expert on nuclear security policy.
Lugar has castigated his fellow Republicans for not recognizing the importance of ratifying the New START treaty as soon as possible.
Delaying until next year is a worst case scenario that could delay the treaty's ratification for months or even years as new senators request additional time to study the issue, and the committee process begins all over again, he said.
"Endless hearings, markup, back to trying to get some time on the floor... It will be some time before the treaty is ever heard from again," Lugar said.
Lugar also warned that the failure to ratify the treaty could have drastic consequences for other facets of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation -- especially the Nunn-Lugar effort to secure loose nuclear materials throughout the former Soviet Union.
If START fails, the cooperation between the United States and Russia on securing loose nukes could be imperiled, representing an even bigger risk for national security, Lugar said.
"There are still thousands of missiles out there. You better get that through your heads," he said, directing his comments to members of his own party.
New START has gotten a through review. There's really no basis for serious objection to the treaty, other than "Obama is president, so we'll vote no." The New York Times says:
There have already been countless briefings and 21 Senate hearings on the treaty — sufficient for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the country’s top military leaders, six former secretaries of state (from both parties), five former secretaries of defense (from both parties) and seven former nuclear weapons commanders to endorse it.
As for concerns about “modernization,” President Obama has already promised an extra $84 billion over 10 years to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex and its arsenal. That would raise spending 20 percent above the levels of the Bush years and is far more than we think is necessary.
Listening to Clinton, Kerry, and Lugar was refreshing. They spoke like the adults in the room, while Kyl and other Republicans spouting their no, no, no sound like two year olds having a tantrum.
New START still allows the United States and Russia to each have 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. That's way too many, but 30% lower than what was allowed by the previous Moscow Treaty.
Yet ten incoming Republican Senators are demanding that the New START treaty be stopped, for undisclosed rational reasons.
As a Daily Kos post on this subject says, the newly elected Senators apparently don't believe that 1,550 nuclear warheads are enought to deter aggression from... someone undisclosed.
They're at odds with Reagan's chief START negotiator, but in line with the desires of Iran and North Korea:
Dismantling the arguments against the New START treaty on the NewsHour last night, Richard Burt, the Reagan administration’s chief U.S. negotiator for the original START treaty, noted that “there are only two governments in the world that wouldn’t like to see this treaty ratified, the government in Tehran and the government in North Korea.”
Aside from the fact that nearly 75 percent of Americans want to see it ratified, Burt also warned that, if the treaty fails, not only would “we miss the opportunity to improve relations with the Russians, who have supported us on Iran and U.N. sanctions and increasingly in Afghanistan,” but the U.S. would also “lose all credibility on the problem of stopping nuclear proliferation.”
I hope the Senate votes on the New START treaty in the lame duck session. Then we'll see how patriotic and military-supporting the supposedly new and improved Republican party is. A vote against the treaty will be a vote against our national security.
Fortunately, it looks like Obama is going to fight for a December vote on the treaty.
It'll be interesting to see how many Republicans decide to stand on the side of nuclear proliferation. (That will make a lot of "soccer Moms" wonder why they voted G.O.P. this year.)