Senate prospects for New START

SENATE PROSPECTS FOR NEW START…. For many years, support for U.S. nuclear arms treaties has been overwhelming and bipartisan, especially in the Senate. The INF Treaty of 1988 was ratified on a 93-to-5 vote. The 1992 vote on START was 93 to 6. The SORT Treaty’s vote in 2003 was a unanimous 95-to-0 vote.

With this history in mind, ratifying the New START, negotiated by Presidents Obama and Medvedev, should, in theory, be a fairly straightforward exercise. Republican Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has already endorsed the treaty and urged his colleagues to support it. New START has drawn praise from officials in the Bush/Cheney administration, and received support from Republican notables like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz

But with our current political culture, nothing is ever easy.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said the administration may have problems getting the START treaty signed last week ratified in the Senate.

Lieberman said he’d arrived at his belief on the vote tally falling short after conversations with colleagues over the congressional recess.

“I don’t believe that there will be 67 votes to ratify the START treaty unless the administration does two things,” Liberman said on “Fox News Sunday.” “First, commit to modernize our nuclear stockpile so as we have less nuclear weapons we know they’re capable, if, God forbid, we need them; and secondly, to make absolutely clear that some of the statements by Russian President Medvedev at the signing in Prague that seem to suggest that if we continue to build the ballistic missile defense in Europe that they may pull out of this treaty — they’re just unacceptable to us.

“We need that defense to protect our allies and ourselves from Iran,” Lieberman said…. Lieberman stressed that as stockpiles are slashed, “we have to make darn sure that our nuclear warheads are capable, are modern. And a lot of them are decades old.”

On the same program, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) endorsed Lieberman’s concerns. Roll Call reported today, “Senate Republicans say they are willing to block ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that President Barack Obama signed with Russia unless the administration follows through with key policy concessions.”

Of course, if Lieberman and Republicans are principally concerned with modernizing the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal, they’re preaching to the choir, since the Obama administration has already endorsed doing exactly that.

But as Max Bergmann explained, that’s not really what’s going on here: “[W]hat Lieberman is really saying is that he agrees with those on the far right that want to needlessly build new nuclear weapons, nearly two decades years after the end of the Cold War. The far right insists that the U.S. is falling behind because it is not building new nuclear weapons and that our existing nuclear arsenal is deteriorating. This is a myth and demonstrates a complete, if not willful, ignorance of our approach to maintaining our nuclear weapons…. Lieberman is therefore willing to vote against a treaty — something that would have dire consequences for the US-Russia relationship, our mission in Afghanistan, and the entire nuclear non-proliferation regime — in order to symbolically demonstrate his support for the far-right’s dangerous nuclear agenda.”

It takes 67 votes to ratify a treaty. The White House would like to try to complete work on New START by August.