The Senate has just signed off on a nuclear treaty with Russia after a weeks-long political fight. Oddly, Russian nukes were not the prime motivating issue behind it.
The New START treaty, which passed the Senate Wednesday by a 71 to 26 vote, will reinstate an arms-control regime that includes caps on the number of missiles and warheads the U.S. and Russia can possess. It will allow for inspections and require notifications and uniform procedures for moving and disposing of missiles.
President Obama signed the treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, and since then Republican senators have raised objections, but from the start (no pun intended), those objections had more to do with American nuclear weapons than Russian ones.
Republicans like Sen. Jon Kyl, the principal GOP objector, protested that the administration had diminished America's "nuclear deterrent" by agreeing to new caps. Kyl and others preferred to upgrade the U.S. arsenal, rather than phase it out.
But amid those concerns, the underlying argument was this: The Cold War is over, and even having such a treaty feels outdated.
Undeniably, nuclear war with Russia seems far less likely than in 1984, when negotiations opened on the first START treaty. By the time the original START was being put into place, even, the situation had changed dramatically. It was first signed in July of 1991 by George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin. The Soviet Union collapsed six months later, and the threat shifted instantly from Soviet state aggression to loose nukes and rogue Soviet military officers. Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan were tacked onto the treaty after they split away.