President Obama remains intent upon pushing his New START arms treaty through Congress before Christmas. It would not simply be wrong for the Republicans to allow this; it would be unconscionable.
Congressional lame duck sessions have become commonplace in the past generation. Usually the focus is on passing a budget, as Congress often misses its Sept. 30 deadline. This year the lame duck session is also focusing on the Bush tax cuts, which given their centrality to budget projections, make them legitimate lame duck business. But one piece of business that doesn’t belong in the lame duck session is the New START treaty. It should be deferred to 2011 for three reasons: the election results, a long record of GOP support for arms treaties and the need for senators need to see the full treaty negotiating record.
The 2010 midterm elections swept more Republicans into the House than any election since 1938. The GOP gained 63 seats, going from 179 to 242 House seats. The GOP picked up five Senate seats, plus one independent (Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski) who will caucus with the GOP. Had there been little change, the objection to passage in a lame duck session, while still valid, would be academic. But voters spoke with rare clarity on Nov. 2, calling for a change in governance. Under such circumstances the only business legitimately done is that to ensure continuity of governmental functions and avoid a massive administrative hassle.
It is a lot easier to get Republicans to vote for an arms treaty than it is to get them to vote to raise taxes. Historically, arms treaties have been bipartisan affairs, with overwhelming majorities passing treaties perceived as in America’s national interest.
The Senate ratified the 1972 SALT I Treaty by an 88-2 vote, with one vote against coming from Democrat Ernest “Fritz” Hollings of South Carolina. Last spring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made much of three prior major arms pacts winning ratification in the Senate with more than 90 votes: the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT, 2002, ratified 95-0 in 2003 — a k a the Moscow Treaty); the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I, 1991, ratified 93-6 in 1992); and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1987 INF Treaty, ratified 93-5 in 1988).
The evidence is unambiguous: Senate Republicans will overwhelmingly support arms treaties in numbers comparable to Democrats, when clearly viewed as good pacts. Trouble for ratification brews when arms pacts are seen as questionable. Thus the 1979 SALT II treaty was never ratified by the Senate. This was partly because of Moscow’s exploitation of loose language in SALT I, allowing it to substitute heavy missiles far larger than smaller ones, increasing potential vulnerability of America’s land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. Senate rejection was also due in significant measure to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Prominent Democrats such as Hollings and Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington were among SALT II skeptics. The addition of more GOP senators should not be a factor if the treaty is a sound one.
Then there is the failure to disclose the New START negotiation record. The administration has resisted turning over to the Senate the entire negotiating record. The WikiLeak diplomatic cables show that this spring administration officials held four meetings to draft a new ballistic missile defense cooperation agreement (BMDCA) with Moscow. Yet in June Mrs. Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates both testified on Capitol Hill to the contrary: no such deal was under consideration, they said. If there is concern that public disclosure of sensitive negotiations will undermine future diplomatic intercourse with Russia, the Senate can hold a closed hearing to examine the treaty record. But given false representations already made, the Senate must see the full record.
Former senior Pentagon official Douglas Feith compared his role in negotiating the Moscow Treaty of 2002 with the New START negotiators. Feith noted that the Bush administration position was to stand firm in rejecting Moscow’s pressure to link missile defense with offensive reductions. The Bush view prevailed then, whereas in 2010 Moscow prevailed, linking missile defense and offensive weapons in the Preamble to the New START Treaty, paragraph nine of which reads:
“Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.”
The Senate thus needs to review the full pre- and post-treaty negotiating record to see how much say Moscow will have in American deployment of missile defense.
Ramming New START through in the frenetic closing days of the old Congress cannot be justified on any claim of emergency. Given a long record of GOP support for arms pacts and legitimate questions about the missile defense negotiating record, the new Senate should be given the opportunity to complete a full review of the treaty. Republicans should filibuster, if need be, to prevent premature ratification and force a full review of the negotiating record.