It says something about the weirdness of our times that the Senate's approval of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" could lead to the scuttling of a major arms control treaty with Russia that could jeopardize American national security.
Though a few conservative experts have opposed the pact, the latest strategic arms reduction treaty with Moscow, known as "New START," should be a nuclear no-brainer. The treaty, which would require Washington and Moscow to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by about 30 percent – and limit Russia to no more than 1500 long-range atomic warheads on 700 missiles and bombers – has been endorsed by the entire U.S. military brass, the intelligence community, and a litany of former Democratic and Republican arms control experts alike, including 7 former U.S. strategic commanders and national security leaders from previous administrations. The list includes such Republican defense stalwarts as Henry Kissinger, James Schlesinger, and George Shultz.
This vital treaty should not be held hostage to Republican pique over having been forced to vote first on a measure that ended discrimination in the military against gay men and lesbians.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who had initially indicated he would support the treaty, said Sunday that he might refrain from doing so now, since the Obama administration had "poisoned" the atmosphere of the lame duck session by promoting repeal of the Clinton-era "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT) policy on gays in the military. Repeal of the ban passed on Saturday by a vote of 65 to 31, with eight Republicans joining Democrats.
So, Senator Graham – and the ten other Republicans who are reportedly wavering on the treaty – get over it. Don't put American national security at risk by letting your annoyance over "DADT" prevent you from supporting ratification of New START.
The treaty is vital to U.S. security. In addition to further reducing the number of nuclear weapons that a terrorist could steal or which might be fired at us in anger or by accident, it would restore on-site inspections of Russian nuclear sites which lapsed last year, of particular importance to U.S. intelligence analysts trying to assess Russian nuclear activities.
While the Obama administration has made its share of foreign policy blunders, it has bent over backwards to accommodate Republican concerns about the treaty. When Republicans complained about language in the treaty's non-binding preamble that they argued might bar Washington from building a defensive missile shield in the U.S. or Europe, administration officials testified that the treaty would do no such thing. When such assurances failed to allay GOP concerns, President Obama wrote a letter assuring that the treaty "places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile defense."
When Republican Senator John Kyl, of Arizona, whose support is deemed critical to passage, expressed concern about the state of America's nuclear weapons complex, the White House pledged $85 billion over the next ten years to modernize the nuclear labs and related installations.
After several senators expressed alarm that the treaty might be rushed through the Senate, the administration waited 8 months and testified at more than 20 hearings to ensure that the members understood the treaty's provisions and the consequences of failing to muster the two thirds majority needed to approve the pact.
But now Republic Sen. Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, announces he will vote no, partly because "rushing it right before Christmas" strikes him as a White House effort to "jam us." Please.
Senate Republican critics have introduced some 42 amendments aimed at sinking the treaty by forcing its renegotiation. Make no mistake: most of these measures are spoilers. "You can't have 100 senators negotiating a treaty with the Russian Duma," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, who supports the treaty.
Failure to ratify the treaty, Mr. Kimball and other supporters warn, could severely damage U.S.-Russian relations at a critical juncture. Russia might reconsider its permission to move American supplies for U.S.-based forces through Russia, or reduce or disrupt American-funded efforts to secure nuclear materials and weapons inside Russia, or block the tough sanctions Washington is seeking for tougher sanctions on Iran to stop its ongoing nuclear program. Nuclear talks among American and its allied negotiators with Tehran are now scheduled for early January. Russian support is vital to such efforts to pressure Iran, which presumably, most Republicans support.
So man-up, GOP, and do the responsible thing for American national security. Postponing ratification til next year makes ratification less, not more likely. Asked about New START ratification, chief intelligence chief James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, gave his view: "I think the earlier, the sooner, the better." That was on Nov. 16th.