What New START Means for Politics and National Security

With at least 67 votes, ratification appears inevitable

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The New START nuclear arms control treaty with Russia passed a procedural Senate vote by 67 to 28 on Tuesday, enough "yes" votes for it to pass the  ratification vote expected today. Since Mitt Romney denounced the treaty this summer, a number of Republicans have attempted to block its ratification, despite a bipartisan near-consensus among punditry for the treaty and the support of every living Secretary of State, including Henry Kissinger. Now that it appears likely to pass, here's reporting and commentary on the treaty, its ratification, and what it all means.

  • What The Treaty Actually Does  Wired's Spencer Ackerman dives deep into New START. Here are the highlights: the U.S. and Russia are capped at 1550 strategic warheads each, capped at 800 delivery mechanisms (ICBMs, nuclear subs, etc.) each, and allowed 18 annual on-site inspections of the other side's nuclear arsenal. The treaty does not limit missile defense or deal with short-range, "tactical" nukes.
  • How Dems Got the Necessary GOP Votes  Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reports the negotiations that secured Republican support, which included senior Democratic leadership in the White House and Senate.

McCain's amendment (PDF), cosponsored by Kyl, Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), would codify a pledge to complete the current four-stage plan for developing a missile defense system, preserve the option of going back to the George W. Bush administration scheme for European missile defense sites, state that U.S. missile defense plans are not grounds for Russian withdrawal from the treaty, and pledge not to share any U.S. missile telemetry data with Russia.

... "There's a lot in the McCain amendment that we are prepared to accept," Kerry said. He said he talked with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and they were preparing a counter offer to McCain's amendment. Both Biden and Clinton were hanging out at the Capitol Tuesday.

  • Could Make Future Nuclear Control Tougher  The New York Times' David Sanger says that what should have been a "speed bump" effort turned into "a mountain," signaling that future efforts at more robust nuclear arms control could be difficult. "His own aides acknowledge that the lesson of the battle over the treaty is that the political divide on national security is widening. The next steps on Mr. Obama’s nuclear agenda now appear harder than ever." For example, a nuclear test ban could be more difficult than he thought.
  • Obama's 'Bipartisan Victory' Over Republicans  "The outcome," The New York Times' Peter Baker writes, " was another bipartisan victory for Mr. Obama, who emerged politically wounded from last month's midterm elections but then successfully pressed Congress to enact several of his top priorities. ... New Start was the last major challenge of the session for Mr. Obama, and in some ways it was the clearest assertion of his authority in the face of an emboldened Republican Party."
  • GOP Turned This Into Political Victory for Obama  Adam Serwer points out in the Washington Post that similar treaties have passed easily in the past and this one would have too if not for the GOP's failed bid at obstruction. But "the New START treaty is about as controversial as a tuna salad sandwich" and the Republican attempt to manufacture it into a controversy has not had the intended affect of embarrassing Obama. Rather, it has turned ratification, which should have been a routine affair, into a high-profile victory for Obama. Writes Serwer:

Republicans have only themselves to blame here. If they had been more focused on the substance of New START, and less worried about humiliating the president or instinctively rejecting anything he proposes, the White House wouldn't have anything to brag about.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.