Page van der LindenNew START and Senate Politics

Sen. John Kerry, chairman, SFRC listens to New START testimony, 5/18/10. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist Chad J. McNeeley/Released).

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again: the Silly Season is drawing to a close, and the US Senate will be back in session next week. When it came to arms control issues, “Silly Season” was celebrated on the op-ed pages; during the time between the last Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on New START and this week, there were literally dozens of “ratify New START/don’t ratify New START” op-eds published, ranging from extremely well-informed to dazed and confused. Whether you’re a national security pundit or an arms control geek, you’ll have something substantial to discuss pretty soon, because New START will finally be up for a committee vote on September 16. There’s actually some tasty, wonky goodness available ahead of the vote; Josh Rogin of The Cable over at Foreign Policy has gotten hold of the discussion draft of the New START Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification, which was circulated by Senator Kerry (D-MA) to SFRC members on September 3.

Procedural Stuff: The Resolution of Ratification

Back at the end of March 2010, John Isaacs published a good piece on the Senate’s role in New START ratification. Even though some time has elapsed, most of his commentary is still relevant, and is a good, general guide to how things might unfold in the ratification process. Isaacs also gives a solid, brief description of the parliamentary procedure involved, for anyone not familiar with it. Specifically:

[The Senate Foreign Relations Committee] will propose what’s called a “resolution of ratification”–the document that the Senate actually votes on. The committee can add to the resolution of ratification conditions, reservations, understandings, and declarations on subjects related to the treaty, such as missile defense, nuclear weapons spending, and future arms control negotiations with the Russians. The Armed Services and Intelligence Committees might also decide to hold hearings on START follow-on, but only the Foreign Relations Committee will vote on approving the resolution of ratification.

Now, what Kerry has circulated is a “discussion draft”; according to Rogin’s piece, Kerry’s office has stressed that the discussion draft is just that: a starting point for discussion. In fact, the letter that accompanied the draft says:

[T]his draft, which is based on the Senate resolutions of advice and consent to ratification of the START I and, in particular, START II Treaties, should give members a sense of how issues are considered in such a resolution and, to a degree, how specific issues that have been raised regarding the New START Treaty might be addressed. Chairman Kerry indicated in his letter of [September 3] that all members of the Committee are invited to convey their suggestions or proposals to the Committee staff directors, or to Tom Moore and me. We understand that this process is under way, and we welcome more input. The deadline for submitting amendments to the draft resolution of advice and consent is Tuesday, September 14.

So, it’s pretty clear that this draft resolution is a starting point, and is not the final product on which the committee will vote.

Politics, Paranoia, and Posturing

Rogin has also found out that Senator Lugar will be submitting a substitute draft resolution on September 16, with some changes in language that he hopes will make the whole thing more palatable to the Republican New START skeptics on the committee, who (according to Rogin) are having problems with everything from missile defense to the language on tactical nuclear weapons in Kerry’s discussion draft. If you’ve been following the GOP take on New START from the beginning, none of this should surprise you. There’s absolutely nothing new here; I fully expect GOP Senators to complain about missile defense until the bitter end, and to even be paranoid about the involvement of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (see Jeffrey’s “Black Helicopters” post). In fact, according to Rogin, someone’s already mentioning it:

Some GOP offices are calling for more aggressive language, such as a pledge not to include missile defense as part of the agenda of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) being set up between the United States and Russia to discuss details of treaty implementation.

If you read through Rogin’s piece, and the GSN Newswire write-up, the tone is that there’s potential drama and deep divisions on the committee. I disagree. There’s no reason to believe that there is much daylight (if any at all, at this point) between Kerry and Lugar on New START. Lugar’s goal right now is to get as many GOP votes as he can, and we already know that there are some fence-sitters, like Sen. Corker (R-TN). Not even Senator Kyl has said he’s going to vote “nay” in committee when the vote is up on the Senate floor. The only confirmed “nays” in committee, in fact, are Senators DeMint (R-SC) and Inhofe (R-OK). Lugar has said recently that he expects that a solid majority of the Republican Senators will eventually back the treaty, but that the big vote won’t happen until after the November midterm elections. In other words, expect a lot of GOP hand-wringing over all the usual issues for many months to come.

By the way, it’s worth pointing out that even though Lugar has been guiding things along on his side of the political fence, there has been some speculation that a lot of GOP Senators look to Sen. Kyl for guidance, since he’s an old hand at arms control as well (even though he isn’t on the SFRC). However, a recent comment by Kyl regarding verification makes me wonder if their faith in his ability to understand New START is, um, misplaced:

“I thought we were just going to continue doing business as usual” as the replacement treaty was debated, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said when a reporter noted the inspection cutoff.

I’ll be writing about verification at some point, and I’m sure the other Arms Control Wonk contributors will as well, but let’s just say that Kyl not knowing that we haven’t been able to inspect Russian strategic nuclear facilities since December 2009 does not inspire confidence.

The Discussion (Draft) Resolution

I’ve gone over the draft resolution, of course taking into account that it’s supposed to be a starting point and not the final word. I’ve given it a cursory comparison to the New START treaty text (please click here for all relevant treaty documents). As far as I can tell, there’s nothing controversial or contradictory there, as one would hope there wouldn’t be. I was initially wondering about the first part of Section 3, which says:

The advice and consent of the Senate to ratification of the New START Treaty is subject to the following understanding, which shall be included in the instrument of ratification:

(1) STRATEGIC RANGE NON-NUCLEAR WEAPON SYSTEMS.—It is the understanding of the United States that—

(A) The United States will not consider future, strategic range non-nuclear weapon systems that do not otherwise meet the definitions of this Treaty to be “new kinds of strategic offensive arms” subject to the New START Treaty.

This is an aspect of the treaty that apparently raised Russian eyebrows during the negotiating process, but was eventually resolved; please see pages 17-18 of Amy Woolf’s excellent analysis for more details. The text of the draft resolution doesn’t appear to contradict what was agreed upon during negotiations.

As always, I’d like to invite your comments and analysis as well. In terms of politics, I’d like to echo Jeffrey’s sentiment from a year ago: let’s hope everyone can stay mature and serious, and stay focused on the important issues. There’s no reason to delay ratification. Time to get it done.


  1. FSB (History)

    You didn’t read the Bolton OpEd in WSJ? Good for some laughs.

    • page (History)

      Oh yes, I did read it. Sometimes I think the WSJ op-ed page is his second home. It’s good for some laughs, but the problem is that people are still listening to him. No idea why…

  2. Greg R. Lawson (History)

    I have argued that a more acceptable START replacement would codify SORT numbers with START I verifications. I see no reason for the reductions other than political theater. It will do nothing to stem proliferation. After all, how much have the US and Russia already reduced and yet the instability of the NPT seems as great as ever.

    Even a world of “Global Zero”, pollyanaish as it is, will never get rid of the knowledge to recommence a program. Yes, it would be difficult. But the very fact of conventional American military superiority will always offer an incentive for armament unless we talk global conventional disarmament too. That has never worked out well before.

    My idea would lock in serious reductions and assure rigorously, even if overly rigorous, verifications.

  3. Scott Monje (History)

    To be fair, Kyl has some basis for his mistake. In mid-November 2009 Michael McFaul, the Russia guy on the NSC staff, said the delegations were negotiating an interim understanding that would permit the two sides to continue monitoring until the new treaty was completed and ratified. Apparently, the Russians weren’t buying it. Shortly afterward, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that McFaul had been misunderstood and that he had actually said that, under the Vienna Convention, signatories should do nothing to undermine a treaty before its ratified. (While the Vienna Convention does say that, it is not even close to what McFaul said according to the transcript on the White House web site.) Evidently, the agreement was never concluded, and both sides simply stopped talking about it. It would be interesting to find out just what happened to it. When the START I treaty expired a joint presidential statement was issued that was apparently meant to say the two sides would continue negotiating in good faith. However, it was vague enough, and followed the McFaul statement closely enough, that numerous journalists referred to it as saying the two sides had negotiated an agreement to continue monitoring until the new treaty was finished and ratified. (The statement was: “Recognizing our mutual determination to support strategic stability between the United States of America and the Russian Federation, we express our commitment, as a matter of principle, to continue to work together in the spirit of the START Treaty following its expiration, as well as our firm intention to ensure that a new treaty on strategic arms enter into force at the earliest possible date.”) That having been said, though, Kyl really ought to have more authoritative sources of information.

  4. Russian Navy Blog (History)

    One of the most consistent complaints about New START is that the verification mechanisms aren’t intrusive enough to ensure treaty compliance. Which is funny, because just a few years ago, I recall hearing the words, “No one cares about Russia” anymore from the mouths of high ranking people. And not only that, the same people who complain about the allegedly not-intrusive-enough verification mechanisms of New START were bitching and moaning about the too-intrusive verification mechanisms in START. I mean us and the Russians were friends, after all.

    The opposition to New START are mostly children. Seriously.

    • FSB (History)

      No, they are vicious meatheads out to discredit the President and/or get more $$$$$ for nuclear “modernization” [see post by Jeffrey some days ago], even if it means risking the country’s security, and even if they don’t know how to pronounce “nuclear”. In light of the comment on Kyl, it appears that it also the case that they don’t know what they talking about. In a profound way.

      So they are ignorant, unpatriotic extortionists. With a weak grasp of English.

      But note: Mr. Obama has set himself up for this by ALWAYS appearing to be ready to compromise at the drop of a hat with the Republicans: Gitmo, missile defense, huge $$$ increase for the National Labs, etc.

      Early on — now it is too late — he should have told them to Piss Off on one or more of these issues and set-up the atmospherics properly. He is now the triangulator-in-chief.

      If you keep being a pushover and hand your candy to the bullies ALL THE TIME, then the bullies keep pushing you around for your candy.

      So, well, maybe you are right after all: they are children — but Obama should know better than to be pushed around by childish bullies.

    • Weaponeer (History)

      No, they are vicious meatheads out to discredit the President and/or get more $$$$$ for nuclear “modernization”.

      So they are ignorant, unpatriotic extortionists. With a weak grasp of English.

      If you keep being a pushover and hand your candy to the bullies ALL THE TIME, then the bullies keep pushing you around for your candy.

      FSB – “How about stopping the ad hominems?”

      Either that, or lay off the sauce before you engage your keyboard.

    • FSB (History)

      Weaponeer —
      In my view, ad hominems are ok as long as they are accompanied by a rational argument — they add a bit of colour to an otherwise dull technical exchange.

      e.g. I feel Senator Kyl is an unpatriotic extortionist because he is willing to reduce US security to get more money from taxpayers for his pet projects which experts agree are unnecessary and not urgent.

      ad hominems without a rational argument, I agree, are uncalled for.

    • FSB (History)

      “The ad hominem is not always fallacious, for in some instances questions of personal conduct, character, motives, etc., are legitimate and relevant to the issue.”

      I tried to add a picture of Senator Kyl to the Wiki page but it was removed….alas.

  5. page (History)

    Let’s stick to the topic at hand, shall we? Thanks.

    • FSB (History)

      OK, but someone kindly let me know what part of this is inaccurate?:

      Some republicans are asking for more $$$$$ for nuclear “modernization” [see ACW post by Jeffrey some days ago] as a quid-pro-quo for signing on to START — i.e. even if it means risking the country’s security (see OpEd by George Shultz in WSJ from a few days ago), and it is a fact that some of them don’t know how to pronounce “nuclear”.

      Can we not discuss the facts as they are, even if they are hurtful, or perceived as such?

      Weaponeer, how does START suddenly become OK when you get a few more billion over the billions and billions of TAXPAYER’s money you already got for “modernization” programs of dubious or non-existent value [see ACW post referring to Bob Peurifoy’s statement that the false urgency of modernization was, essentially, an excuse to extort money from US taxpayers.]

      Let’s please stop pretending we are all so thin-skinned and discuss the facts.



      It’s time for the Senate to vote on New START

      By George P. Shultz, Madeleine K. Albright, Gary Hart and Chuck Hagel
      Friday, September 10, 2010

      The Senate should promptly vote to approve the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) with Russia for one reason: It increases U.S. national security. This is precisely why Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared at the outset of Senate consideration of the treaty that it has “the unanimous support of America’s military leadership.”

      The treaty reduces and caps the Russian nuclear arsenal.

      —-etc —

      also see:

      The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2010

      Learning From Experience on Arms Control

      Russia and the United States have made steady progress on verification since the 1980s.


      The New Start treaty provides an instructive example of how, when everyone works at it, an important element of arms control treaties can be improved by building on past treaties and their execution.


  6. Allen Thomson (History)

    > I mean us and the Russians were friends, after all.

    Not to get too far off the thread, but coincidentally enough this appeared on another list I subscribe to:

    I mention it because the author, Igor Lissov, is a very well respected, apparently cosmopolitan Muscovite who has a long history of interacting in international forums and playing nice with everybody. I.e., I give what he says some weight.

    • Scott Monje (History)

      Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Moscow Center and a retired colonel himself, wrote the following in the Moscow Times last year.

      “The U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 sparked concerns among Russian leaders and military top brass about the ultimate strategic goals of the United States. Many senior officials continue to believe that the United States has a hidden agenda: to destroy Russia. Many people regard such fears as paranoid, but no one should dismiss them lightly. The lack of trust is staggering.”

      I think this is truer for the military than for the civilian leaders, but the mood certainly exists in some circles there, too. Trenin might have added that at least some generals insisted that Bush’s missile defense plan in East Europe was really a cover for an offensive missile system deployed four minutes from Moscow. Clearly, as a negotiating tactic, repeatedly telling the Russians that they’re not worried about us anymore isn’t going to get us very far. Ironically, the Bush administration often cited the successful exit from the ABM Treaty as evidence of how well we were getting along with the Russians. One problem is that Putin understood a reformed relationship to mean that from then on he would be in on all the big Earth-shaking decisions in world politics, and therefore he was willing to swallow what he saw as an abhorrent decision. On the other hand, the Americans (and not just the Bush administration) took it to mean that if the Russians were no longer a threat then we wouldn’t have to pay any attention to them at all anymore. (Sorry about getting so far off the topic of Senate politics, but it just seemed to fit.)

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