The New START Treaty, a treaty signed between the U.S. and Russia, is promoted by the Obama Administration as a means toward a reduction of nuclear weapons between the nations. Senator Richard Lugar (R–IN), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told C-SPAN (according to The Hill) that “a ‘large majority’ of members in his party will back [the treaty] and that it will be ratified.” Lugar is the only Republican to pledge support to date, and any prediction of this controversial treaty passing in a lame duck session after the November elections may be wishful thinking.
Missile defense is going to be a sticking point and may lead to this treaty’s downfall. As Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) wrote in U.S. News and World Report, the side agreement that will dismantle missile defense may be the biggest sticking point for conservatives who believe in the concept of peace through strength.
Senator DeMint argued that the treaty has many failings, and with regard to missile defense, this treaty may render the U.S. unable to defend against a missile attack:
The treaty dampens the U.S. ability to defend against missile attacks and makes America and her allies vulnerable to rogue nations while receiving nothing for our concessions.
Any reduction in missile defense—technology developed to shoot down a rogue missile pointed at the U.S. or its allies—would be a big mistake.
Lugar argued on C-SPAN that he believes that “possibly a majority, in fact, do favor the treaty nominally and will eventually vote for the treaty.” This does not seem to be a very strong belief that the treaty will pass. Nominal support is a characterization of many Members who are not on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and have not had an opportunity to consider the arguments against ratification.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduling a vote for mid-September on the treaty. Lugar told C-SPAN that “on the 15th and 16th of September we will have a markup of the Treaty in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. My prediction is that the markup will lead to the Senate committee sending to the floor the New START treaty.” The votes are present in the committee to discharge the treaty.
Democrats plan to pass the treaty in committee and then await possible consideration after the November elections for a vote during the expected lame duck session of Congress before a new Congress is sworn in. When asked by Warren Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers if he believed that the treaty would pass, Lugar responded that “I am not predicting anything.” This treaty does not have the confident support of many in the Senate because of the missile defense issue.
As Baker Spring has written for The Foundry, New START may increase the possibility of a nuclear exchange with Russia, and the Russians have conditioned support for the treaty on the U.S. agreeing to degrade missile defense capabilities.
Russia was successful in getting language in the preamble of New START that commits the U.S. not to develop or deploy missile defense capabilities that Russia finds objectionable. The Russian government, in order to strengthen the commitment regarding missile defense, has issued a unilateral statement that informs the U.S. that it will withdraw from New START if the U.S. does not limit its missile defense program in accordance with Russia’s views. The Obama Administration, for its part, has told the Russians that it has no intention of pursuing missile defense capabilities that Russia will find objectionable.
Among other concerns, Senators have requested time to review the negotiating record to understand the details of the negotiations on missile defense. Steve Groves of The Heritage Foundation has argued in a paper titled President Obama Should Give the Senate Access to the Negotiating History of New START that Senators need time to review the negotiating records for New START to see if a side agreement to stop deployment of missile defense was a consideration for the Obama Administration’s signing of the treaty.
On May 6, six members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delivered a letter to President Obama requesting access to the New START negotiating records, which President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed on April 8 in Prague. In subsequent committee hearings on the treaty, Senator DeMint made repeated requests to review the records. To date, the Administration and Democratic members of the Foreign Relations Committee have denied all such requests.
Given the ambiguous language on strategic defensive weapons in the treaty’s preamble, Russia’s unilateral statement on the meaning and legal force of the preambular language, and the reported circumstances surrounding the interchange between negotiators on missile defense, the Administration should reverse its position: The Senate should be given access to New START’s negotiating history to permit concerned Senators to become fully informed as part of fulfilling their “advice and consent” role under the U.S. Constitution. While Senate requests for treaty negotiating records should not become routine or institutionalized, the circumstances surrounding the negotiation of New START justify access in this particular case.
Missile defense is going to be a big issue in the debate on the New START treaty, and any prediction as to the possibility of this treaty passing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then the full Senate is premature. Until Senators have a full grasp of the ramifications of the treaty for missile defense, there is no way to predict if this treaty can pass in this Congress or the next one.