The Senate should clear the way today for a new arms treaty with Russia and send a bipartisan message to the world that this nation remains committed to reducing the threat of nuclear war. President Barack Obama needs 10 Republicans to join Senate Democrats and was searching for votes Monday as debate continued. There has been plenty of time to review the treaty since it was signed in April, and this opportunity should not be lost because of partisan posturing.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky complained that Democrats are pushing too quickly for ratification of the treaty in a lame-duck session. The political reality is McConnell is angry that the Senate voted to repeal the ban on openly gay members serving in the military and will do anything to prevent Obama from winning another legislative victory. A significant treaty that will give the United States more tools to limit and monitor Russia's nuclear arsenal should not be used as a political pawn.
The treaty would limit the United States and Russia to 1,550 deployable strategic warheads each, down from a ceiling of 2,200, with 700 launchers per nation. It also would allow the resumption of inspections of each other's nuclear arsenals, a process that expired last year. Contrary to opponents' claims, there is nothing in the treaty that measurably departs from what had been in place under prior arms control agreements that garnered substantial bipartisan support. The complaint Republicans have been raising — that the treaty would interfere with our nation's creation of a missile defense capability — is not backed up by the facts.
A host of current military officials and former Republican leaders, including former President George H.W. Bush, are calling for the treaty's ratification. And it is generally supported by the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana, though he has expressed doubts about a vote during the lame-duck session. Waiting would only make ratification less likely, with more Republicans taking Senate seats in the new Congress.
One tactic of Republican opponents has been to try to amend the treaty. That would require the president to reopen negotiations with Moscow, which warned Monday that it is not interested in another round of talks. Making the president look weak on the international stage may serve the Republicans' political interests, but it is bad for every other national interest. What kind of message does it send to nations with nuclear ambitions like Iran and North Korea that the president can't persuade Congress to go along with a reasonable arms control agreement affecting America's own stockpile?
New START is critical to national security, and it is supported by influential Republicans and top military leaders as well as Democrats. The Senate needs to put aside political games and act for the good of the country.