New START: what if it fails?

 In Nuclear Weapons

In these last crucial weeks before a likely vote on the New START, many Senate Republicans are still on-the-fence about which way they will vote. So what are the consequences if New START fails?

The latest bout of treaty opposition is in the form of fundraising from right wing groups such as The Heritage Foundation and The John Birch Society (which has consistently opposed every nuclear arms treaty between the US and the Soviet Union/Russia.) Mitt Romney followed up his ridiculous Washington Post op-ed with a fundraising letter calling for donations to stop the treaty. It’s another not-so-subtle attempt to burnish his neoconservative credentials for the 2012 GOP presidential race.

The Obama administration needs 8 to 10 Senate Republican votes in order to pass the treaty. So far, 1 has pledged support (Richard Lugar, R-IN) and only 2 oppose (Jim DeMint, R-SC and James Inhofe, R-OK.) But a number of GOP heavy weights are on-the-fence, including John McCain. Their decisions are expected to swing remaining senators. This still leaves too much room for doubt.

There is too much at stake to assume safe passage for the New START treaty. Among its benefits, the agreement will reduce the size of nuclear arsenals in the US and Russia, which account for approximately 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. The consequences of failing to ratify the treaty would extend beyond US – Russian relations.

Former Democratic Senator Gary Hart believes that the non-proliferation agenda will falter without New START ratification:

The two of us have the greatest burden, but sooner or later we want to bring in China and our European allies that have nuclear arsenals and see how far we can go. But it must begin with us and the Russians, and if we turn our back… it’s a giant step backward and it would set back our diplomacy, foreign policy, and national security in serious ways.

John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World, warns those who seek to oppose the treaty:

The alternative [to ratification] is no START treaty, no verification, a clear setback to U.S.-Russian relations and widespread questioning of U.S. ability to carry forth international agreements if we can’t get this treaty through.

The US’s allies recognize that the New START treaty is essential to the administration’s foreign policy agenda. Many European diplomats are growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of progress on the treaty. Obama promised them ratification, yet it’s been 6 months since the previous treaty expired.

France’s Ambassador to Washington Pierre Vimont told foreign policy blog, The Cable:

From the European point of view, nobody can understand why the START treaty has not been ratified. When we send cables back home saying that START might not be ratified, they ask us ‘What have you been drinking?

Timing is crucial for New START ratification. We must ratify the treaty before Senate recess. It’s in the GOP’s best interest to delay the vote because after the November election, a GOP-heavy Senate will make it even harder to pass. That’s why Washington can’t count on New START ratification without making the most of these last few weeks.

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