It might not say a ton that the new arms-control treaty with Russia could be President Obama’s first concrete accomplishment to date, an agreement that is likely to get ratified this summer – but it’s a START.
The accord, which would bar each side from deploying more than 1,550 strategic warheads or 700 launchers, met with some stiff resistance in a Senate hearing yesterday from a handful of Republicans, but support from Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, helped to offset their harangues.
In addition to Lugar stepping up, the treaty will also be bolstered with succor from two former Republican secretaries of state, Henry A. Kissinger and James A. Baker III, according to Senator John Kerry who claims he will be summoning them to approve the pact.
Senator Lugar asserted failure to ratify the treaty would be an “extremely precarious strategy” because the proliferation of nuclear power only increases the odds of nukes ending up in the wrong hands and that it just takes one to wreak massive destruction on New York or Philadelphia. Lugar was quoted as saying: “If I become dogmatic or emotional about it, it’s from some experience of seeing what could hit us.”
It also helps that the highest ranking military officer Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has thrown unconditional support behind it. Speaking on behalf of the entire armed forces Mr. Mullen said: “This treaty has the full support of your uniformed military.”
Arms-control experts have said the covenant’s main virtue is it would allow the two countries that own nearly 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons to continue verifying each other’s stockpiles. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified the agreement would provide the U.S. with more credibility to rally the world around the cause of nuclear nonproliferation as America walks the talk.
I am not suggesting that this treaty alone will convince Iran or North Korea to change their behavior,” Mrs. Clinton said. “But it does demonstrate our leadership and strengthens our hand as we seek to hold these and other governments accountable.”
There were a few poignant attacks from Republicans who grilled Clinton, Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. One of the biggest issues with the proposal is verbiage that seems to inhibit expansion of U.S. missile defense systems.
Senator Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina called it “absurd and dangerous” to think the U.S. “should seek parity” with Russia given America’s unique role in the world. “Russia doesn’t have 30 countries counting on them for protection,” Mr. DeMint said. Mrs. Clinton volleyed that said language would do nothing to constrain U.S. efforts in this area, saying: “The facts really refute any concerns that you and others might have.”
Senator Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee wondered if the U.S. was really getting anything out of it because Russia has fewer launchers than the ceiling in the new pact, and that the U.S. were the only ones making cuts. However, Gates responded by saying the Russians had more warheads than would be allowed, thus they would be making weapons reductions.
Senator Johnny Isakson (R) of Georgia pointed out the treaty would permit fewer inspections than the original 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December. Under the new treaty, each side would be able to conduct 18 inspections a year versus the 28 inspections permitted in the previous arrangement. Obama advisers countered by saying inspectors would have to monitor only 27 nuclear facilities that currently exist in Russia today, compared with 73 that had to be monitored in the old Soviet Union.
Robert Bluey of FOXNews.com pointed out in a recent article, backing up DeMint’s objection, that the Russians and the U.S. were already arguing over critical semantics immediately after the agreement was originally signed:
The Russians released a statement arguing the treaty would work only if the United States “refrains from developing its missile defence capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively.” The State Department countered with an April 8 fact sheet asserting the treaty “does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs.”
David J. Kramer, who spent more than eight years at State, told Bluey:
The Russians have to spin this at home as saying they have laid down markers on missile defense. Here in the United States, the administration is going to underscore that this in no way ties the administration’s hands on missile defense. These are rather contradictory messages coming from Moscow and Washington on a fairly critical issue.”
Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith said the State Department has avoided answering the question that troubles conservatives the most: Does the New START Treaty limit in any way the development or deployment of American missile defenses?
The key point,” Feith said, “is that administration officials don’t believe they can categorically say they’ve protected in this new treaty America’s flexibility to develop and deploy any missile defenses that now or in the future may be determined to be necessary.”
In the National Review former U.S. ambassador John Bolton admonished that the treaty gives Russia a “de facto veto” over U.S. missile defense systems. “Advances in missile defense are now effectively impossible if this treaty enters into and is to remain in force,” Bolton wrote.
Words are important, and in yesterday’s hearing the dodgy Mrs. Clinton didn’t exactly clear up this messy picture by recommending detractors simply review the facts – a process it seems many have underwent that drove the query in the first place. Unless more facts have been revealed that the rest of us are not privy- I daresay this question still stands.
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