Why Is Obama So Focused On the START Treaty This Year?

Do We Even Need a New START Treaty?

The first START Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union was signed on July 31,1991 and entered into force on December 5, 1994. The START Treaty essentially limited the numbers of nuclear weapons, warheads and other military arms possessed by both sides at the time. It was a treaty between two bitter adversaries and helped, according to some, to lessen the tensions between these two great powers. This original treaty expired on December 9, 2009, but both Russia and the USA informally agreed to continue to observe the terms of the original treaty until a new treaty came into effect.

A new effort to renew and renegotiate the START Treaty was begun in 2009 by President Barack Obama. It includes, among other things, huge reductions in nuclear arms on both sides, something that is near and dear to the hearts on the far left. A key element of this agreement with Russia was the elimination of an anti-missile system as part of an Eastern Europe defense system negotiated by President George W. Bush, and was bitterly opposed by Russia. On July 6, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the new START Treaty with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

In recent times, President Obama has made ratification of the START Treaty with Russia a top priority. Not the repeal of the Bush tax cuts, not an emphasis on the Defense appropriations bill, not an emphasis on extending the continuing resolutions to keep the government running after Dec. 3, but a major emphasis on having the Senate ratify the treaty this year. His Nov. 20 radio address was all about ratifying the START Treaty this year, during the lame duck Senate session.

One has to ask at least two questions:

  • Is the START Treaty really needed? 
  • Why must the treaty be ratified this year?

Is the START Treaty really needed?

In my opinion, the simple answer is no! I realize that I am not fully cognizant of every element of this treaty, although I have read the basic 17 page text. The Treaty essentially limits the number of ICBMs, SLBMs, heavy bombers and missile launchers that each side can have. Why is that even necessary? All these limitations do is tie the hands of the United States as we face an increasingly hostile world with more and more rogue nations developing nuclear weapons.

There are also a number of troubling parts with this Treaty, including

Article III, 7. (a) A missile of a type developed and tested solely to intercept and counter objects not located on the surface of the Earth shall not be considered to be a ballistic missile to which the provisions of this Treaty apply.

Does this mean that we can develop anti-missile defensive systems? Does this mean the other side can shoot down satellites? Who knows? Why not just state plainly that either side can develop all of the anti-missile systems they want and need to shoot down incoming missiles from rogue nations.

11. Strategic offensive arms subject to this Treaty shall not be based outside the national territory of each Party. And another part: Heavy bombers may be temporarily located outside the national territory, notification of which shall be provided in accordance with Part Four of the Protocol to this Treaty.

So, it seems under the Treaty that we can’t deploy our weapons in a friendly nation or give them to a friendly nation, such as Israel unless we get permission to do so.

I would bet that most senators, whose job it is to vote on this treaty have not even read it. Most have almost certainly not read the 165 page Protocols, where lots of hidden details lie. (At least its not 2700 pages, like Obamacare). However, there are some fundamental arguments one can make about a treaty like this without reading every word. There are also many opponents whom I respect who are opposed to this treaty, including Charles Krauthammer who wrote an insightful piece in the Washington Post, and others like former UN ambassador John Bolton.

In 1991, the USA and the Soviet Union were engaged is a serious cold war with the possibility that nuclear weapons could be used against one another in the future. This had been going on since the late 1940’s. Even so, President Ronald Reagan started working with the Soviets in June of 1982 on various aspects of arms limitations and it took over nine years to sign an arms limitation treaty with the Soviets. Reagan didn’t just rush into signing the original START Treaty so he could be considered a swell fellow by the world’s leftists. Eventually it was signed in 1991 by George Bush I and went into force in December of 1994, many years after the original talks about such a treaty. We waited until the START Treaty gave the USA a fair deal in its agreement with the Soviets.

Now, all of a sudden, President Barack Obama says we must ratify the new START Treaty immediately. We are not engaged in a conflict with Russia and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future. However, we are very likely to be engaged in conflicts with Iran, North Korea and possibly other countries in the Middle East, and we better have the arms and the weaponry to protect ourselves.

The fact is that it is not more dangerous whether the USA and Russia have more or less nuclear weapons than they do now. What’s far more dangerous is that Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons today and that North Korea and Iran are feverishly working to develop their nuclear weapons for tomorrow. Who knows how many more nuclear powers will emerge in the near future.

The USA needs all of its weaponry to defend itself against these rogue nations. Moreover, the USA needs a strong, workable, technologically superior anti-missile system to defend itself from nuclear attacks from these nations. We do not need another treaty that will inhibit our weapons capabilities to any extent, or where we can deploy those weapons. Especially not to satisfy the desires of Barack Obama to appear to be the peace loving left winger looking for adoration from a war weary world.

Why must the treaty be ratified this year?

The answer to that is simple. President Obama currently has effectively 58 Democrats he can control in the Senate through Harry Reid. (Mark Kirk of Illinois will replace Roland Burris at the end of November giving the Republicans an extra seat in the lame duck session). Furthermore, he has a few compliant Republicans like Richard Lugar that he thinks he can persuade to give him the necessary 67 Senate votes to ratify this treaty. It will be very tough for Obama and Reid to get these 67 votes, but he has a shot.

Obama has a big problem in 2011. The Republicans will have five more senators in 2011 than they had in 2010 (again taking into account Mark Kirk’s taking his seat in 2010). Moreover, an additional six more Republicans will be replacing outgoing Republicans, some of whom are even more conservative than the senators they are replacing. I would expect newly elected senators Rand Paul, Rob Porter and Marco Rubio to be more conservative than the senators they are replacing, with senators Roy Blunt, Kelly Ayotte and Jerry Moran all being at least as conservative as the senators they will replace.

I fully expect all of these new Republican senators to fully read and understand the implications of Obama’s new START treaty. I also expect them to come to the conclusion that the treaty is not in America’s best interests, and to vote against ratification.

It’s obvious that President Obama wants his ratification vote in 2010, when he will have at least eight or nine more compliant senators than he will have in 2011. A defeat for the START treaty in 2011 will deal a serious blow to Obama’s foreign policy credentials.

That’s what all of the effort is about to get a vote this year on the START treaty. I hope and expect that the U.S. Senate will hold off until all of the newly elected senators in 2010 have an opportunity to vote on the START treaty ratification. We have an outstanding new class of Senators in 2011 and they deserve to help make this important decision.


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