Nuclear treaty meltdown

If one looks very hard, it’s possible to find experts who oppose the New START nuclear arms limitation treaty with Russia. For example, there’s John Bolton, who undermined U.S. relations with the rest of the world during his not-brief-enough tenure as United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush, and John Yoo, the architect of Bush’s disgraceful torture policies. But they’re a small minority. The treaty is favored by the leadership of the U.S. military, six former secretaries of State and five former secretaries of Defense. So when Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the GOP’s point man on the issue, decided this week that the treaty wasn’t important enough to be taken up by the lame-duck Congress, it was pretty clear that he was acting not in the interest of the nation but of his party.

New START is the successor to a Reagan-era treaty that expired last December; since then, the United States and Russia have been unable to monitor each other’s nuclear arsenals. The new treaty would resume inspections and cut the number of long-range warheads in each country from 2,200 to 1,550. President Obama has called the treaty his top foreign policy priority, a key component in the “reset” of relations with Russia that could pay dividends not only by improving nuclear security but by paving the way to greater cooperation between the two powers in dealing with such hot spots as Iran and Afghanistan.

Several GOP senators will take their cue on the treaty from Kyl, the Republican whip. The Obama administration has taken great pains to woo him, addressing his concerns about the country’s aging nuclear weapons facilities by promising $80 billion in upgrades over the next decade plus $100 billion to modernize our triad of delivery systems (submarines, bombers and land-based missiles), and then kicking in another $4 billion last week to placate him. A quick vote is important because the minimum number of Republican votes needed to ratify the treaty will jump from nine to 14 with next year’s influx of GOP freshmen, making approval even less certain.

“I believe, and the rest of the military leadership in this country believes, that this treaty is essential to our future security,” said Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at an event last week. Kyl apparently wasn’t listening. His obstructionism shows that the November election hasn’t changed the GOP’s strategy, at least in the Senate. Republicans remain determined to thwart Obama’s agenda and sabotage his legacy even when doing so is deeply contrary to the national interest.