Foreign Policy Blogs

New Start Ratification

The Senate’s ratification today of the New Start treaty comes as an immense relief, not mainly because of considerations directly associated with nuclear arms control or with U.S.-Russian relations, but because of what defeat would have said about the state of U.S. politics. So trivial and senseless were the objections advanced by Republican critics of the draft treaty, one would have to conclude the critics were either fools or knaves–people willing to descend to any level for near-term political advantage. Even as it is, the debate and maneuvering that led up to the final vote was not reassuring. One amendment would have required the treaty to be renegotiated so as to set a limit on launchers of 720 rather than 700! Can anybody seriously think that a difference of 20 out of 720 launchers is of any importance whatsoever, or that haggling over the difference is worth jeopardizing a big complicated treaty that has won the unanimous endorsement of the U.S. military leadership and all living Republican secretaries of state?
As it has turned out, John Isaacs of the Council for a LIvable World, probably the best vote counter in the independent arms control community, had it exactly right. Ratification of the treaty depended on close vote counting right up to the end, it proved possible to take up the matter only after the midterm elections were out of the way, and in the end the treaty prevailed.
The implications for arms control and disarmament? The limits set in New Start barely do more than recognize the status quo and as such represent a very modest advance, if any. As the Obama administration has said again and again, new and reinstated verification procedures are by far the most important benefit in terms of U.S. national security. In terms of international security, adoption of the treaty sends a signal that the United States and Russia are still on a track toward general and complete nuclear disarmament, as called for by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
As for U.S-Russian relations, the treaty signals that it will still be possible to conduct important business in matters ranging from Iran and North Korea to energy and climate. But the treaty does not necessarily mean that relations will be warm and cuddly, or that they should be. As the Senate was debating the treaty’s supposed implications for missile defense and tac nuke deployments, the judge presiding over the second trial of Khodorkovsky conveniently delayed issuing a verdict, which almost surely will keep the Soros-like businessman-politician in jail for another 14 years.
In February the European Court of Justice is scheduled to issue a judgment in a case brought by investors who lost tens of billions of dollars when Putin dispossessed Khodorkovsky’s Yukos. Whether it will the customary slap on the wrist or a tough verdict ordering Russia to cough up billions, it seems safe to say that investors will not get a dime.



William Sweet

Bill Sweet has been writing about nuclear arms control and peace politics since interning at the IAEA in Vienna during summer 1974, right after India's test of a "peaceful nuclear device." As an editor and writer for Congressional Quarterly, Physics Today and IEEE Spectrum magazine he wrote about the freeze and European peace movements, space weaponry and Star Wars, Iraq, North Korea and Iran. His work has appeared in magazines like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and The New Republic, as well as in The New York Times, the LA Times, Newsday and the Baltimore Sun. The author of two books--The Nuclear Age: Energy, Proliferation and the Arms Race, and Kicking the Carbon Habit: The Case for Renewable and Nuclear Energy--he recently published "Situating Putin," a group of essays about contemporary Russia, as an e-book. He teaches European history as an adjunct at CUNY's Borough of Manhattan Community College.

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