New START Had It Easy

Par David T. Jones le 16 février 2011

On December 22, 2010, the Senate having spent much time wailing and gnashing teeth approved the New START Treaty with Russia.  From the language, one could have thought its advocates believed it to be the arms control's Second Coming (or at least a much accelerated new millennium) while its opponents characterized it as a cup of hemlock for the Republic.

The rhetoric was over the top; the truth, of course, more complicated.  New START is a useful follow on to the expired START treaty notably with prospective additional strategic missile reductions and a revived inspection regime.  Its problems fall into the category of what cannot be known, rather than what specifically is in the Treaty.  

And this falls into the category of "trust"-- not the Reganesque "trust but verify" sobriquet that characterized the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.  "Trust" in INF was easy--it was with the Soviets.  "Trust" for New START is harder--the Republicans need to trust a Democratic president and administration to implement promised nuclear warhead modernization and upgrades and to trust that the intimation in the New START preamble that defensive antiballistic missile systems are not limited.  Trusting Americans is much harder.  And trying to nail down an Obama commitment is akin to nailingJello to a wall.

There really is nothing new under the sun.  In 1988, having completed the INF Treaty with Presidents Reagan-Gorbachev signing on December 8, 1987, the Administration anticipated rapid ratification by the Senate.  The Treaty was widely popular in the United States and globally, particularly in Europe. It had been part of Europe/NATO politics for most of a decade from painstakingly agreed deployments in European basing countries to stop-and-start negotiations to a comprehensive agreement eliminating all intermediate and shorter rangeU.S./Soviet missiles with detailed arrangements for their destruction and subsequent verification of their elimination.

But the Democratic controlled Senate had no special interest in making the Republican president (and the prospective Republican presidential nominee for 1988) look good by quickly endorsing a Republican drafted/negotiated arms control agreement.  (Does this tension between Executive and Congress sound familiar?)

So the Senate Democrats decided to put its mark on the INF Treaty.  Most didn't want to reject it; after all "arms control" was one of their political icons, but they wanted to leave the impression that the Republicans hadn't done that good a job (and they could have done better).  So they:

-- demanded endless testimony by a wide variety of senior figures to appear before not just the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees but their House analogues;

-- posed quite literally 1,000 questions regarding the Treaty--questions with complex, multipart variants only with ancillary connection to INF but which protocol demanded be answered in painstaking, interagency cleared (and thereby time consuming) detail;

-- blew off the endorsements by every living former Secretary of State.

Does the above sound familiar?​

Moreover, as was the case for New START, the Senate demanded the "negotiating record" of the INF Treaty.  This demand was a consequence of an Executive Branch claim that it could adjust elements of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty based on points discussed during the negotiations albeit not directly reflected in treaty text.  After much negotiation over what was to be provided (and diplomatic thrashing to compile detailed records of negotiating sessions), the INF delegation provided a large safe filled with material to be seenonly by senators and/or staff with appropriate security clearances.  The upshot?  Virtually nobody ever accessed the INF material; it was a political rather than a substantive demand.  In contrast, the New START delegation stiff-armed the demand for the negotiating record, and it was never provided and thus what may have been discussed about defensive systems remains unknown.

Finally, Senator Nunn battened on an obscure piece of Treaty language and insisted that its wording would permit the Soviets to manufacture SS-20 stages.  Absurd, but no counter argument could convince the senator, so the U.S. negotiators returned to Geneva to create language to satisfy him.  In contrast, Republican Senator McCain insisted that New START preamble language noting"…the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms…will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced…" prejudiced development of the U.S. ballistic missile defense program and should be deleted.   Arguing that the preamble was not legally binding, the Administration declined to renegotiate the point, leaving the issue unresolved.

Ultimately, the Senate ratified INF 93-5, but New START only 71-26, a "squeaker" in political terms.


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