At the upper reaches of the Republican party there’s a consensus on the New START treaty: It’s a mistake. In exclusive statements to NRO, top Republicans nationally — and potential 2012 presidential candidates — lambaste the treaty as a deeply flawed document that should be revised or scrapped altogether.
Newt Gingrich says the Obama administration “must make ironclad commitments” that the U.S. will modernize its nuclear forces and move forward with comprehensive missile defenses, “and the Russians must know of these commitments and agree that they will not affect their own obligations under the treaty.
“Unless this happens,” he concludes, “the treaty should not be ratified.”
“The New START treaty, touted by proponents as proof that the ‘reset button’ is working,” says Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, “favors Russia more than it favors us. Moscow almost certainly views this lopsided treaty as a sign of American weakness, which will only encourage Russia to seek additional gains in the bilateral relationship.”
Mitt Romney, who has been a prominent critic of the treaty, says it should be “a non-starter.” He argues that it “could be [President Obama’s] worst foreign-policy mistake yet.”
“As it stands now,” says Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, “the treaty is deeply flawed.”
If all goes according to plan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D., Mass.) will force a committee vote on the treaty tomorrow, sending it to the Senate floor for debate by the full Senate.
The treaty — signed by President Obama and Russian president Dmitri Medvedev in Prague on April 8 — would limit the intercontinental-ballistic-missile (ICBM), submarine-launched-ballistic-missile (SLBM), and heavy-bomber nuclear armaments of the United States and the Russian Federation to 1,550 deployed warheads for each side, a 30 percent reduction from the limits imposed by the 2002 Moscow Treaty.
The treaty enjoys broad Democratic support in the Senate, and it has the backing of key Senate Republicans like Richard Lugar of Indiana, Senator Kerry’s counterpart on the Foreign Relations Committee. But a group of Senate Republicans led by Jon Kyl of Arizona has expressed deep concerns with the terms as they stand, arguing that the treaty will hinder the United States’ ability to defend itself from nuclear attack while leaving Russia with a massive warhead advantage.
Senator Kerry has signaled that the final consideration of the treaty will be pushed into the lame-duck session after the midterm elections, so that it might be debated “without any politics [or] election atmospherics.” But with 67 votes needed for ratification, and the expectation of significant Republican pickups in the Senate in November, Democrats are eager to ratify it before the 112th Congress is seated in January, making the next few months crunch time for supporters and opponents alike.
Senate Republicans who go along with Kerry’s rush to ratification will do it against the tide of opinion in their own party, whose leaders believe President Obama has been out-negotiated on a treaty that harms the interests of the United States.
Tim Pawlenty, a prominent voice in conservative domestic-policy debates but comparatively quiet on foreign policy, has “serious concerns” with the very premise of the treaty and what he calls the “dangerous and naïve belief that cuts in our nuclear weapons will somehow discourage proliferation by other regimes, when the exact opposite result is more likely.”
Governor Pawlenty, a likely contender for the GOP presidential nomination, calls New START a “distraction” from more pressing nuclear threats emerging in Iran and North Korea.
Gingrich, who is openly pondering a presidential run, also cited Iran as a priority. “Iran is doggedly pursuing nuclear weapons and the missiles to launch them,” Gingrich says. “This would give that regime, whose leaders ascribe to the ideology of radical Islamism, the ability to carry out the unthinkable. Now is not the time to ratify an arms-control treaty without ironclad assurances that the U.S. can deploy a comprehensive missile-defense system to protect America and our allies.”
Mitt Romney, a candidate in 2008 and likely to be one again in 2012, cites the treaty’s explicit ban on the conversion of American ICBM silos into missile-defense sites, and Russia’s threat to vacate the treaty should it think the U.S. has moved to bolster its missile-interception capabilities. He also points to a glaring lacuna in New START that would leave the vast majority of Russia’s nuclear warheads untouched. “Obama heralds a reduction in strategic weapons from approximately 2,200 to 1,550,” Romney says, “but fails to mention that Russia will retain more than 10,000 nuclear warheads” categorized as “tactical” because they are mounted on missiles that cannot reach the United States. “But surely they can reach our allies, nations that depend on us for a nuclear umbrella.”
Senator Thune, a member of the Armed Services Committee who is also frequently mentioned as a potential 2012 candidate, calls New START “a missed opportunity” by President Obama. “Instead of providing clarity,” he explains, “New START creates troubling ambiguities about vital U.S. national-security interests such as missile defense and maintaining an effective nuclear triad of bombers, submarines, and ICBMs.”
Rising conservative star Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has hammered the treaty on NRO and in U.S. News, maintaining that it “dampens the U.S. ability to defend against missile attacks and makes America and her allies vulnerable to rogue nations while receiving nothing for our concessions.”
Then there’s our favorite dark-horse candidate in 2012, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton. He has criticized New START at length in the pages of National Review and the Wall Street Journal. “This treaty is harmful to American interests in many, many ways,” Bolton tells NRO. “I can’t imagine that any serious candidate for the Republican nomination could be anything other than strongly opposed.”
– Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. Daniel Foster is news editor of National Review Online.