The Spectacle Blog

Should the Senate Ratify New START?

By on 11.10.10 | 7:27PM

On the op-ed pages of today's New York Times and Washington Post, commentators who usually agree on foreign policy come out on opposite sides of the debate over ratification of New START, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia.

In the Times, John Bolton and John Yoo write that the Senate should "either reject the treaty or amend it so that it doesn't weaken our national defense." They argue, among other things, that the treaty

reflects the Obama administration's lack of seriousness about national missile defense. Its preamble accepts an unspecified "interrelationship" between nuclear weapons and defensive systems. Politically, even if not in treaty language, the Russians get what they want: no significant United States efforts on missile defense.

The Obama administration hopes to sell this dangerous bargain with a package of paper promises. The Foreign Relations Committee's resolution contains various "conditions," "understandings" and "declarations" holding that New Start doesn't "impose any limitations on the deployment of missile defenses" or dilute Congress's aspiration to defend the nation from missile attack. A second understanding exempts conventional weapons systems with a global reach. A third affirms Congress's commitment to the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear arsenal.

Senators cannot take these warranties seriously - they are not a part of the text of the treaty itself...

To prevent New Start from gravely impairing America's nuclear capacity, the Senate must ignore the resolution of ratification and demand changes to the treaty itself. These should include deleting the preamble's language linking nuclear arsenals to defense systems, and inserting new language distinguishing conventional strike capacities from nuclear launching systems or deleting limits on launchers entirely.

But Robert Kagan writes in the Post that

blocking the treaty will produce three unfortunate results: It will strengthen Vladimir Putin, let the Obama administration off the hook when Russia misbehaves and set up Republicans as the fall guy if and when U.S.-Russian relations go south.

Kagan does not address concerns about the effect that the treaty will have on missile defense, but he makes a compelling case that failing to ratify the treaty would have deleterious consequences. I'm inclined to split the difference: If the treaty can be ratified contingent on the changes that Bolton and Yoo suggest (they cite historical precedents for this), it should be, but if the only politically viable options are straight passage or straight defeat, passage is preferable.

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