Nuclear Weapons

Who are the real radicals in New START debate?

The debate rages in the Senate on ratification of the New START treaty, as we wait for a vote from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The opposition claims that Obama’s vision of a nuclear weapons-free world is utopian, unrealistic and radical. But I think we know who is actually off their rocker on this issue.

The far right has abandoned the rational debate in favor of party politics in the divided Senate. Mitt Romney has made an anti-START agenda the focal point of his future presidential campaign with a fundraising pitch to supporters. Numerous arms-control and foreign policy experts have criticized Romney’s lame OpEds, including members of his own Republican party. Senator Richard Lugar described it as “hyperbolic attack” that “repeats discredited objections and appears unaware of arms control history and context.”

Ultra-conservative fundraising groups like the Heritage Foundation, John Birch Society and Tea-Party-sponsored Liberty Central have begun campaigning against the treaty as well. They share in the hard-right’s nostalgic paranoia about Russian intentions, and refusal to give diplomacy a chance.

Nuclear arms-control expert Kingston Reif sheds light on the Heritage Foundation on Nukes of Hazard:

The degree to which Heritage will say just about anything to cast doubt on New START is pretty amazing, though perhaps not surprising. For example, yesterday Peter Brookes stated: “So we will cut our strategic nuclear warhead levels to 1,550, but Russia will keep 2,100.”

…But experts predict Russia’s strategic forces will drop to 1,000 warheads, which is below the 1,550 level of accountable warheads in New START, with or without the treaty. It would be nice if Heritage could at least get its story straight, even if they continue to have a little trouble with the facts!

The administration must secure two-thirds of Senate votes but key support is still missing. Case in point: Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, says he can’t support the treaty in its current form. “I’d like to be in a position to support it…[but] not yet.” This is crazy – This is a treaty, not a piece of legislation that can be amended, and there are no other forms of the treaty for him to support. So Lieberman, with apparently no specific objections to the treaty, joins currently undecided Republican senators Bob Corker, Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe, Bob Bennett and John McCain, among others.

The good news is that bi-partisan support for the treaty continues to grow. One of the newest supporters, Consensus for American Security, sums it up in their opening statement:

The New START Treaty is a critical and essential first-step. The Consensus demonstrates bipartisan support for efforts to SECURE the world’s current nuclear stockpiles, PREVENT terrorists from getting access to nuclear technologies, and REDUCE the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide.

The START Treaty represents the US national interest. It is the only option that allows us to invest in the nuclear security priorities necessary to confront the threats of today and tomorrow. Building on the successes of President Reagan, the Treaty allows us to control old weapons while supporting our forces and the development of advanced capabilities. Without this Treaty, we will not be able to move forward with new strategic issues that are vital to protecting America.

Tom Daschle, former Senate Democrat leader and member of the Washington think tank, Center for American Progress also spots political motives in treaty opposition. Daschle claims that failing to ratify new START would renew the arms race and encourage states like North Korea to join in, and “American credibility on nuclear issues would evaporate.

The obstacles today to reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world, the obstacles to increasing this country’s national security, the obstacles to continuing down the path that President Reagan himself first cleared—they are entirely political.

Daschle accuses irrational GOP opposition like Romney of “flirting with nuclear anarchy.” He says Republican senators have a choice:

[they] can choose Mitt Romney or they can choose the entire U.S. military establishment.

Treaty opponents repeatedly claim that the administration’s plans for disarmament are radical. But Obama’s vision is nothing new. In fact, it’s shared by former presidents Reagan, Kennedy and Eisenhower. It doesn’t get more mainstream than that.