Senate challenges re Nuke Arms Reductions
July 9, 2009 – 9:06 p.m.
Despite GOP Resistance, Democrats Pursue Arms Reduction Ratification
By Josh Rogin, CQ Staff
Despite progress by U.S. and Russian leaders this week toward a new nuclear arms reduction treaty, it appears less and less likely that the Senate will ratify any agreement signed by the two governments before the end of the year.
In the face of GOP Senate calls for other issues to be addressed along with any agreement that would replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires Dec. 5, Democratic leaders acknowledge that Senate approval might not be possible this year — and also might not be necessary.
“It doesn’t have to be ratified by December for the president to say that we’re going to live by the law,” said John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The United States adheres informally to several treaties the Senate has never ratified, including the Law of the Sea Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Kerry noted, adding, “It’s better to ratify it, and we will try to do what we can.”
If the Senate cannot ratify the START follow-on treaty, the Obama administration might have to implement new nuclear arms reductions without congressional consent and without the force of law.
But the lack of ratification poses problems for the drive to establish a new arms regime both at home and abroad.
Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind., said it might be possible to extend the current START agreement if both the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma can’t ratify a new treaty by the December deadline.
“It’s possible, but not necessarily acceptable” to implement arms reductions without Senate ratification, said Lugar, who supports having a full debate over the issue in Congress.
Experts say that if Congress doesn’t endorse the new treaty, nationalist interests in Russia will gain leverage in their drive to kill that country’s own ratification effort.
“If the treaty is not ratified by the U.S. Senate, the Russian Duma will certainly use that as an excuse to block it,” said Alexandros Petersen, a fellow at the Atlantic Council, a think tank that focuses on trans-Atlantic relations.
Republican Senate resistance to a new treaty is centered on two issues: A plan for modernization of the nuclear stockpile and a renewed commitment to build missile defense sites in eastern Europe, many GOP senators believe, must accompany any reduction in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
The Obama administration’s position is that those two issues are now being studied — the modernization plan as part of the Nuclear Posture Review and the missile defense sites in the Quadrennial Defense Review — but will be considered in some fashion as part of the START negotiations.
President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to further reductions in nuclear arsenals during their July 6 summit meeting but did not come to any conclusions about missile defense, agreeing only to discuss it further.
“I think the administration will make a mistake if they don’t recognize the missile defense component of this debate has to be addressed,” said Armed Services member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., arguing that Obama must commit to going forward with planned sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in order to get widespread GOP support for a new START treaty.
Russia believes the European missile defense sites are linked to the nuclear arms negotiations, but in a way opposite from the Republican senators’. Several Russian officials have said the administration must agree to scuttle the sites if it wants a new nuclear treaty. The administration maintains the sites are directed at defending against a potential nuclear attack from Iran, not Russia.
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., expressed the Senate Democrats’ position: The two issues should be dealt with separately.
“I don’t think they ought to be linked at all,” Levin said. “I hope the Russians don’t link them, and I hope we don’t link them. They are very different issues.”
A group of GOP senators told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in a May meeting that if there is any linkage between the agreement and shuttering the European sites, the senators would work against ratification, Senate aides said.
A plan for nuclear stockpile modernization, which could include the George W. Bush administration’s Reliable Replacement Warhead program, is another precondition Senate Republicans want before agreeing to support a new START treaty.
“I think a central first step to even consider it . . . is getting on a path, which we’re clearly not on, for a robust nuclear modernization program,” said David Vitter of Louisiana, ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works subcommittee that oversees nuclear safety.
Many Senate Republicans expressed concern that the United States was giving up too much in initial stages of the talks, because the Russians had internal reasons to concede on some reductions anyway.
“Much of what Russia is acting like they’re going to give away, they’re going to give away anyway, for budget reasons and for other strategic reasons,” said Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the administration was rushing to complete an agreement quickly and neglecting issues of substance.
“It seems to be driven by public perception rather than strategic need,” he said.
Adam Graham-Silverman contributed to this story.
Source: CQ Today Print Edition
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