President Obama must be frantic. Among his most important personal and political priorities is ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Toward that end, he wants the U.S. Senate to rubber-stamp a seriously defective bilateral strategic arms-control accord with Russia by which he hopes to set an example for other nuclear powers to disarm.
This so-called New START treaty was in trouble even before it became clear that the window for Senate approval would be the short post-election lame-duck session. The expected influx next year of conservative Republicans - to say nothing of the prospect that one of them, Sharron Angle, may replace Majority Leader Harry Reid and that his Democratic Party may no longer be in the majority next year - all but ensures that New START will face even greater skepticism in the next session of Congress.
Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, the prospects for getting what soon will be yesterday’s Senate to go along with his radical disarmament agenda have been seriously diminished in recent days.
There are 41 Republican senators today, and - thanks to the importance the framers attached to the Senate’s responsibility for providing quality control on international treaties - just 34 of them can prevent ratification. At least that many, and perhaps virtually all GOP senators, can be expected to object to hasty consideration of this particular treaty on three grounds:
First, New START is unverifiable. The Republican vice chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, has written a classified letter to that effect, and he summarized its findings in a conversation with me on “Secure Freedom Radio” last week: “I think the treaty is weak on verification, especially compared to previous treaties like START and the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty. We will have much greater trouble determining if Russia is cheating, and given Russia’s track record, that’s a real problem.”
New START will afford the Russians a say over our anti-missile defenses. In 2001, President George W. Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had effectively given them a veto in such matters. A number of senators have expressed concern that the Kremlin is correct when it asserts that the new accord’s preamble and other provisions will effectively hobble America’s ability to protect its people and allies, even from threats emerging from North Korea and Iran - and that Russia will withdraw from the treaty if that proves not to be the case.
For these reasons, Republican senators led by Jon Kyl of Arizona have been trying to extract from the Obama administration the New START negotiating record in the hope of clarifying exactly what U.S. diplomats have promised the Russians on missile defense. These requests have been stonewalled by Team Obama, which to date has deigned to provide only a classified summary - a far cry from the authoritative text.
Critics of New START have been outraged to learn from press accounts that even as this defiant behavior continues, Mr. Obama’s minions have been negotiating yet another agreement with Moscow - one that can only impose even more restraints on U.S. options with respect to missile defenses. A letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday by Sen. Jeff Sessions and others observed caustically that according to an “Oct. 1, 2010 Bloomberg report, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.S. and Russia are close to reaching an agreement on missile defense.”
The senators’ letter ups the ante on the fight over the negotiating record. It requests that the administration provide “a copy of all documents (including the … Russian missile threat analysis) exchanged with the Russian Federation incident to the [Under Secretary of State Ellen] Tauscher-[Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey] Rybakov discussions or any other venue, concerning U.S. missile defenses before the full Senate begins its consideration of the New START Treaty. We would also like to see all cable reporting on these discussions and any others involving U.S. missile defenses.”
The Obama administration is not serious about maintaining America’s deterrent. To be sure, the president has insisted that, while he seeks to eliminate all nuclear weapons, “as long as these weapons exist, the U.S. will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.”
Yet the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently disclosed that the deterrent is literally running out of gas. In a microcosm of the deteriorating condition of the U.S. nuclear arsenal more generally, the Obama administration and its predecessors have failed to provide an assured means of supplying tritium, a radioactive gas that is essential to boosting the explosive power of America’s nuclear arms. Because tritium decays rapidly, such a failure is a formula - over time - for unilaterally disarming the United States. That may fit the president’s denuclearization agenda, but it is inconceivable that 67 senators will agree with it, certainly not in the Senate the American people will elect in November.
For all these reasons, the U.S. Senate must not allow itself to be railroaded during the abbreviated lame-duck session that will follow those elections into superficial consideration of an accord whose unverifiability, implicit and explicit limits on missile defense and contribution to this country’s unilateral disarmament make New START a true nonstarter.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program “Secure Freedom Radio,” heard in Washington weeknights at 9 p.m. on WRC 1260 AM.