New START Closer to Breaking Out of the Blocks

The ratification vote for New START is finally at hand today or tomorrow and the Obama administration may have finally garnered enough supporters. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Aides to Senate supporters of the treaty said that of the nine Republican members they need, they have four committed supporters: Sen. Richard Lugar (IN), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH). Scott Brown of Massachusetts announced Monday he would also vote to ratify.

They considered as likely or possible votes are Sen. Bob Corker (TN), Johnny Isakson (GA), and Lisa Murkowski (AL). Sen. Bob Bennett (UT) Sen. Saxby Chambliss (GA) Thad Cochran (MS) are considered maybes.

Once again, though, we feel a responsibility to point out what New START isn’t: a true disarmament treaty. In a recent commentary for the Western States Legal Foundation (despite its name, an anti-nuclear group), Andrew Lichterman sums up this perspective as well as anyone:

The principal purported benefits of new START, given that it requires only marginal arms reductions over seven years, mainly fall into two areas: resumption of on-the-ground verification measures, and re-establishment of a negotiating framework for future arms reductions. The concessions extracted by the weapons establishment in anticipation of ratification, in contrast, will have immediate and tangible effects, beginning with increases in weapons budgets and accelerated construction of new nuclear weapons facilities. These increased commitments of resources are intended to sustain a nuclear arsenal of civilization destroying size for decades to come, and will further entrench interests that constitute long-term structural impediments to disarmament.

One would think that the START deal, with a treaty constituting at best very small arms reductions coming at the cost of material and policy measures that are explicitly designed to push any irreversible commitment to disarmament off many years into the future, would spark considerable debate within the U.S. — arms control and disarmament community. With the struggle over treaty ratification in its final stages, however, most U.S. arms control and disarmament organizations have obediently lined up behind the Obama administration, parroting its talking points and saying little or nothing about the budget increases and policy promises provided to the nuclear weapons establishment.

The last sentence is what, in part, Lichterman means by the subtitle of his paper “The START Treaty and Disarmament.” It reads: “a Dilemma in Search of a Debate.” More on that:

For months now, what little public discussion there is in the United States about arms control and disarmament has been dominated by treaty negotiations between the Obama administration and a formidable adversary. . . . The adversary is not Russia (those negotiations concluded last spring); it is the U.S. military-industrial complex and its representatives in the United States Senate.

To this observer the saddest irony may be that the Republicans who are finally agreeing to vote to ratify may not have needed the $86 billion which the Obama administration has indicated that it will designate for the nuclear-weapons industry. The Republican senator to which the money was directed to win their votes, led by Jon Kyl and Mitch McConnell, remain unmoved.