Now that Senator Jon Kyl, the informal Republican leader on New START, has ruled against voting on the U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament treaty during the "lame duck" session, it's significantly less likely that it will be ratified either before or after the 112th Congress is seated in January. That might seem unusual, given that the past three U.S.-Russia nuclear disarmament treaties were all signed by Republican Presidents, sometimes with the support of some of the same Republican Senators now refusing to enact this fourth iteration, including Kyl. It might also seem unusual because this treaty only reduces the U.S. nuclear stockpile by 650 warheads, while the previous three reduced it by almost 10,000 warheads.
Political commentators have largely explained this opposition neither in terms of nuclear defense, which is decreasingly important in the era of terrorism, nor in terms of U.S.-Russian relations, which are at an all-time high since the first such agreement was penned in 1991, but in terms of domestic partisan politics. That is, Republicans appear to be motivated by a desire to turn what would have been a victory for President Barack Obama into a defeat, thus raising their party's relative stature and improving their odds for winning the White House in 2012. But whether or not defeating New START would in fact be a domestic political win for the Republican party, it would be a significant defeat for U.S. foreign policy.