Our Chance on New START Is Slipping Away

Today, November 2, is midterm election day in the US, and by nearly all credible accounts, the Republican Party seems poised to make big gains when voters go to the polls. Interestingly, this time around these victories will be based overwhelmingly on domestic issues -- namely the economy and jobs creation. A quick look at the ad campaigns right here in the state of Massachusetts shows that candidates are focused on things like tax cuts, unemployment, education, and the overall state of the economy. There is little to no focus on national security or foreign policy issues. You see neither incumbents nor contenders discussing Iran, North Korea, terrorism, Afghanistan / Iraq, or climate change.

One shouldn't be surprised, then, to see New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) -- a treaty that nearly everyone endorses, from former Secretaries of State and Defense to the former commanders of both Strategic Air Command and STRATCOM -- getting such little attention in the run-up to these critical elections. Moreover, the chances of New START being ratified by the Senate, which are already slim-to-none in the lame-duck session between November and January, will become even more minuscule once Congress begins its new session in 2011.

It is difficult to overstate the significant degree to which current and former policymakers have endorsed New START. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, from Senator John Kerry (D-MA and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) agree that New START will continue a legacy of mutual, phased and verifiable arms control measures that were first set out and implemented by the Reagan administration. Moreover, New START is sensible because it is a confidence-building measure, and particularly after Russia's nuclear saber-rattling during George W. Bush's second term, such measures are absolutely necessary to promote good relations between the two former Cold War rivals -- who, let's not forget, still hold between them 95% of the world's nuclear weapons stockpile.

But for all its sensibility and utility as part of a long-term vision and strategy to make the world a safer place for generations to come, New START has foundered on the Senate floor. Domestic politicking, a desire on the Republican side to see the President fail, and to some degree a lingering mistrust of Russia have all presented serious obstacles to the ratification of what the Obama administration almost certainly thought would be a no-brainer. And even though it has been more than six months since Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed it in Prague, failure to ratify New START here at home would be a devastating blow to the President's foreign policy agenda, the centerpiece of which is arms control and nonproliferation.

A trusted Washington source told me the sincere hope of the Obama administration was that New START would be signed before its predecessor treaty expired in December of 2009, and that it would be ratified well in advance of midterm elections. By this time, the President had hoped to be pushing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). So much for that.

As a citizen and somewhat informed voter, I find it frustrating when domestic resistance and political pandering get in the way of the development and progress of strong, sensible agendas. It's a shame, really, that our national security strategy and the future of our country depends on the myopic politicking of a handful of representatives, who are blocking the progress of New START for all the wrong reasons.

As Governor Schwarzenegger so eloquently put it, "There are those in America that are trying to flex their muscles and pretend they're ballsy by saying, 'we've got to keep those nuclear weapons' ... [but] it's an idiot that says that. It's stupid to say that."

Amen to that.