Nuclear Weapons

Republican hypocrisy: Similar Treaty, Different Response

This week, a Washington Post writer called out Republican hypocrisy by examining Republican support for The Moscow Treaty, negotiated under President Bush.

The Moscow Treaty passed unanimously in 2003 under President Bush. Yet twenty-four of the Republicans who voted for the previous treaty are in the Senate today, dragging their feet on START. Walter Pincus of The Washington Post writes:

“This treaty is a masterstroke. . . . It is shorn of the tortured bench marks, sub-limits, arcane definitions and monitoring provisions that weighed down past arms control treaties,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). “It assumes a degree of trust between nations that are no longer on the precipice of war.”

…In fact, Kyl and many of the 23 other senators are critical of elements of New START that they readily accepted or ignored in the agreement they embraced seven years ago.

At an Armed Services Committee hearing in June, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said first among his areas of concern on New START was to feel “confident that the treaty is verifiable.” Back in 2002, McCain did not attend the Armed Services hearing at which Rumsfeld said, “One reason we saw no need for including detailed verification measures in the treaty” was “there simply isn’t any way on earth to verify what Russia is doing with all those warheads.” Despite the lack of means to verify compliance in 2003, McCain voted to ratify the Moscow Treaty.

Republicans have sought some guarantee that promises in the Obama administration’s 10-year plan to modernize the nuclear weapons complex will be carried out. This year, directors of the nation’s nuclear laboratories have testified, as has the director of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), in support of New START. Kyl and others are visiting the labs, seeking further information from the directors.

Eight years ago, only one witness from the NNSA appeared at a hearing that just three Republicans attended. The NNSA’s Everet H. Beckner said his agency had a “fairly aggressive” five-year budget plan for the future, but he never was asked for details. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) attended the Aug. 1, 2002, session and asked about the capability to produce more nuclear “pits,” the plutonium triggers for thermonucluear weapons. Beckner’s answers led Sessions to say, “So for a decade or so we have a window where this is problematic,” but nothing else was done or said.

Last month, at an Armed Services hearing, [Senator James] Inhofe questioned the number of hearings being held and the failure to call opponents of the pact. As an example, Inhofe noted that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is a member, had held 12 hearings and heard 25 witnesses but that only two had voiced criticism of the treaty. He and other Republicans requested that Levin hold additional Armed Services hearings to give opponents a chance to testify. Armed Services has now had eight hearings on New START.

Eight years ago, it was different. In the months after the Moscow Treaty was signed, the Foreign Relations Committee held only four hearings and Armed Services just two. Two nongovernmental witnesses testified and noted that the pact had no verification procedures, though neither opposed its passage. Neither Inhofe nor any other Republican requested additional hearings or witnesses.

In fact, at the second and last of the Armed Services hearings in 2002, Inhofe said he was “going to be very quick” with only one question to ask. Why? Because, he said, “we have had so many of these hearings, I have run out of questions.”

“Our national security is at risk,” warned Hilary Clinton on Wednesday as she called for the Senate to ratify New START. Ploughshares Found President Joe Cirincione reinforced her message and demanded that Republican senators quit “dragging their feet“:

What prompted Secretary Clinton’s passionate warning? Deep concern that partisan politics and parochialism will trump national security interests in an election year.

The fix is at hand.  The administration has negotiated a workman-like extension of the treaty.  It improves the inspections, streamlines their implementation and reduces both sides’ long-range nuclear weapons by about 30 percent from previous allowed levels.  Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Republican whip, calls it “relatively benign.”

“I believe that this treaty is too important,” Clinton said.  “It should not be in any way caught up in election year politics.”  She warned, “There is an urgency to ratify this treaty…Our ability to know and understand changes in Russia’s nuclear arsenal will erode without the treaty.  As time passes, uncertainty will increase.”

Categories: Nuclear Weapons

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