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Stopping New START

Every once in a while, senators inadvertently tell the truth. The official Republican opposition to the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia is based on two incorrect assertions and an irrelevancy: There hasn’t been enough time to vet it properly, it might limit U.S. missile defense efforts, and it doesn’t mention tactical nuclear weapons. But a couple of GOP senators may have recently let the real reason slip out.

During Senate debate on the treaty Friday, and in an interview with the New York Times, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) acknowledged that his colleagues might reject the treaty out of pique over unrelated actions by Democrats, such as votes on repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and on the DREAM Act immigration reform. “It poisons the well,” Corker said. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) echoed those words in a CBS interview Sunday. “If you really want to have a chance of passing START, you better start over and do it in the next Congress, because this lame duck has been poisoned,” he said.

Partisan rancor is not a good reason to block a pact that, for national security reasons, is backed by the entire U.S. military leadership and such GOP heavyweights as former President George H.W. Bush and former secretaries of State Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Shultz, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

The official reasons for voting against the treaty are simple to dismiss. The notion that Democrats are rushing it through the Senate, touted by such GOP stalwarts as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is laughable — there have been 18 Senate hearings on the treaty since May, and it has been more thoroughly reviewed than any other arms control pact in decades. Other GOP senators, led by Arizona’s John McCain, fret that some language in the preamble stating that the interrelationship between offensive and defensive weapons “will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced” somehow ties American hands when it comes to missile defense. Surely McCain knows better; preamble language has no legal bearing on international treaties, and the language limits nothing anyway. Finally, there is Sen. Jim Risch (R- Idaho), who submitted a failed amendment to insert a mention of tactical nuclear weapons in the preamble. No Russia-U.S. treaty has ever mentioned such devices, and the addition of any new language would scuttle New START, thus setting back relations with Russia and damaging the prospects for future discussion of such issues.

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Enough posturing. A party that claims to oppose political gamesmanship and favor a strong national defense is giving itself a black eye.


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