The reasons go beyond the arms control provisions. Reaching agreement on this treaty was a key step in a new and broader relationship with Russia, and with President Dmitry Medvedev. Of course, Russia and the U.S. remain rivals and adversaries in many ways. But the cooperation we have received on sanctions toward Iran — including especially the Russian refusal to send potent S-300 missile systems to Tehran — and on the drug trade in Afghanistan, among other things, has been a major plus. The failure of START in the Senate would endanger future cooperation and be a major embarrassment to Medvedev and a big boost to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It would also devastate the existing regime of inspection over nuclear arms, ramping up the danger of nukes getting into the hands of highly undesirable people and groups.
Of course, the treaty left some gaps and ambiguities. These were recognized and pointed out by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the conservatives’ point man in the Senate on START. The administration, Lugar and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) have bent over backward to accommodate Kyl’s concerns, with flat assurances that they will provide the resources to modernize our weapons and will not use the treaty to erase missile defense systems. The Russian willingness to work with us and the Europeans on a missile defense system will melt away if START falters.
But in this corrosive political environment, where even key national security issues get caught up in partisan warfare, where the goal of making the president a one-termer can trump any issue, and where too many lawmakers are afraid that they will be the next Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), the fact is that START needs to get through in the lame duck, where only eight Republicans are required to make the 67 votes needed for ratification. In January, the numbers shift in a dangerous direction, as a group of incoming Senators led by Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) have already suggested some antipathy toward the treaty.
Unfortunately, Kyl and other Republican opinion leaders such as Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) have made clear they do not want a vote on the treaty in the lame duck. Kyl has long been a Senator I admire for his seriousness of purpose, his intellect, and his decency. Corker is a thoughtful, solid and independent conservative, a rising star in the Senate, who voted for the treaty in the Foreign Relations Committee. Blunt brings real depth and experience from his position of leadership in the House; I always found him to be one who put national interest ahead of cheap shots, at least on the international front.
I cannot fathom why they are doing what they are doing. Schultz is not exactly a wimp when it comes to dealing with Russia or threats in the world. No one understands the dynamics of global relations and America’s role in the world — much less the dangers of nuclear proliferation — more than Lugar.
Our military leaders are not prone to wishful thinking or peace-at-any-price thinking. The stakes for America’s national interest, including Iran and Afghanistan, are immense here. Please, guys, suck it up and find a way to make this work.