Arms reduction is a matter of national security; it should rise above partisanship

At a time when it is necessary for the United States to be a leader in the drive against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it would send a dangerous message to the rest of the world if the New Start treaty with Russia is not ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty process was launched and the first treaty negotiated by President Ronald Reagan, who made the phrase “trust but verify” part of the American lexicon. Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush got to sign the first treaty with the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

The Start treaty expired just under a year ago and with it the ability of either party to verify the other’s actions in maintaining or expanding their nuclear arsenals. In April, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new treaty in Prague, subject to ratification.

Extensive hearing process

In September, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution in support of the treaty on a bipartisan vote of 14-4. The resolution was submitted by ranking Republican member Richard Lugar of Indiana and cosponsored by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. Lugar noted that the vote came after four months of consideration and a dozen hearings, some open and some closed for security reasons.

That would have seemed to be a sufficiently serious and bipartisan effort to assure ratification of the treaty by the full Senate. Treaties require 67 votes for ratification, but past Start votes have enjoyed affirmative support of 85.

The likelihood of ratification, however, was cast into doubt this week by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, announcing that he is not supporting ratification of the treaty this year. And joining Kyl is none other than Corker, the man who cosponsored the resolution in support of the treaty as a member of the foreign relations committee.

Kyl’s objections are not rooted in any provisions of the treaty; they are tied to his assertion that the administration has not committed to spending enough money on modernizing the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

He voices this opposition with a straight face, even though the Obama administration has pledged $85 billion to maintain the nuclear arsenal over the next 10 years, including $4.1 billion added directly in response to Kyl’s concerns .

Increases to die for

The Associated Press reported that Obama’s budget would lift average spending over the five years beginning 2012 nearly 30 percent over 2010 levels. Linton Brooks, who oversaw the nuclear laboratories as director of the National Nuclear Safety Administration during the Bush administration, told an audience at a Washington think tank that he “would have killed for” the amount in the 2010 budget.

Those kind of numbers call into question the legitimacy of Kyl’s budget complaints.

As for Corker, we can’t help but consider the Tennessean’s history of parochialism, and wonder if his newfound opposition isn’t spurred his desire to accelerate plans for multibillion dollar expenditures at nuclear facilities in New Mexico and, surprise, Tennessee.

In any case, Kyl and Corker are mixing apples and oranges. The Senate has the constitutional responsibility to ratify or reject treaties on their merits. The Senate has a separate role in the appropriation of money for federal projects, including arms development. By tying one to the other, Kyl and Corker are abdicating their responsibility to consider treaties and trivializing their ability to affect the budget.

All of which, leads, almost inescapably, to the conclusion that this is being done for political purposes.

And that is beyond despicable, it is dangerous.

We need allies

At a time of frightening nuclear proliferation prospects in the world — especially in Iran and North Korea — the United States needs all the allies it can muster. None is more important than Russia in the Middle East theater.

Americans understand partisan politics. From time to time they endorse it, and then revolt against it. Whether the Republican calculus to deny Obama any kind of political victory will eventually work for or against their party is a chance they appear willing to take.

But that kind of inside-politics gamble is lost on much of the world.

All the people of other nations see is one of the two great nuclear powers — the Untied States — telling them they shouldn’t have nuclear weapons while it refuses to even renew an arms control treaty with another great nuclear power, Russia.

It is not difficult to see that such an ugly view of America does not serve U.S. interests in the world. Neither does the image that Republicans are apparently intent on giving Obama, that of an ineffective leader at home.

Those who are fond of giving lip service to American exceptionalism must rise above short-term partisan politics if they want to be taken seriously.

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