It's not just the Obama administration against which Republican senators under the guidance of Jon Kyl pit themselves when they oppose New START. In fact, perhaps bewitched by Tea Party-style incoherence, they've also placed themselves in the unlikely position of bucking the national defense establishment, to which traditionally they've been joined at the hip. New START, of course, enjoys the support of Secretary of Defense Gates and the Pentagon.
There's no love lost on New START by this author, in part because its cuts are token, but, more to the point, because it's come at too high a cost -- a commitment to spend $86.2 billion on maintaining current operations of the nuclear weapons complex along with modernization of the stockpile and infrastructure. The Republicans and the Obama administration, in fact, are making it more and more difficult to pin the label "paranoid" on left-wing disarmament advocates who suspect New START is just a smokescreen that they're both using to ensure that the nuclear weapons industry continues in perpetuity.
But, let's view national security through the lens of conventional thinking and see how Republican opposition to New START looks. Oddly, Republicans have been less concerned about the actual numbers of deployed warheads reduced than with counting technicalities which they feel leaves Russia at an advantage. Aside from that, at first glance, opposition to New START is consistent with Republican values because it:
- Demonstrates continued belief in the importance of nuclear weapons to national security.
- In an effort to keep the Cold War view of Russia-United States relations alive, it stays Washington's hand as it edges ever closer to the Russia "reset" button.
We didn't include "because it stands in opposition to the Democrats" since the reflexive obstructionism with which Republicans in the House and Senate respond to Democrats' initiatives is of comparatively recent vintage, dating back to the Gingrich revolution. About Republican opposition to New START Paul Krugman wrote: "if sabotaging the president endangers the nation, so be it." You've no doubt seen or heard many New START supporters make that argument. In that vein, what follows are responses to Republicans who operate under the assumption that they make up the national-security party.
If continuing without on-site inspection of Russian nuclear weapons, which expired with old START a year ago, is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then vote no on New START. Rebuffed on New START, Moscow might consider rescinding its support for the latest U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran and, as well, change its mind about that air defense system it had canceled on behalf of U.S.-Russia relations. If that's your idea of a sound national-security strategy, then, please, vote no. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the National Jewish Democratic Council favor ratification of New START for the same reason. If threatening Israeli national security is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then don't hesitate to vote no.
Despite Republican objections to New START on the grounds that it impedes missile defense, the administration has not only inserted language into the treaty's preamble to keep it from interfering with missile defense, but seeks $700 million more for missile defense in 2011. If using that as a pretext to oppose New START is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then vote no.
If a rebuffed Russia deciding to disallow U.S. and NATO from continuing to use its territory and airspace as a supply route to Afghanistan is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then vote no. If throwing away an opportunity to strengthen Russian President Medvedev's hand at home at the expense of the more autocratic Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is your idea of a sound national-security strategy, then vote no.
Under the Nunn-Lugar Umbrella Agreement, the United States and Russia have agreed to continue the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program for decommissioning WMD from the former Soviet Union states while ratification of the New START Treaty is pursued. But Senator Lugar himself said that "it is unlikely that Moscow would sustain cooperative efforts indefinitely without the New START Treaty coming into force." If endangering Nunn-Lugar is your idea of a sound national-security policy, then, by all means, vote no.
In the end, Republican strategy on New START may not turn out to be refusing to ratify New START, but, deficit hawks or no, extorting every last penny it can from the Obama administration for nuclear modernization before finally voting yes. We briefly interrupt this expose of the Republicans idea of a sound national-security policy to advise them that, if this is your idea of sound fiscal policy, then vote yes.
In the end, Republican balking at ratification of New START may be strictly in the service of helping to ensure a Republican victory in the next presidential election. They will then be free to engage in that other form of obstructionism so dear to them -- an aversion to treaties in general. The ratification process for New START is yet more confirmation that the Republican party, as it's currently constructed, is constitutionally incapable of conceding that the rival party has anything at all of merit to offer. Furthermore, when their actions run counter to not only the consensus view on national security, but their own, it's apparent that what they once referred to as "creative destruction" has less to do with politics than with breaking toys. Clearly, calling in in the social sciences in an attempt to make sense of their behavior is a course of action that's long overdue.
For more by Russ Wellen, visit Focal Points, the blog he edits for Foreign Policy in Focus.