President Barack Obama has accomplished a number of his domestic initiatives over the past two years, but one major aspect of his foreign policy agenda still languishes in the Senate.
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, a nuclear arms agreement signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, has faced Republican opposition that has delayed a vote on the treaty.
Among several other elements, the treaty would reduce both nations’ strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, roughly a one-third reduction.
“This [treaty] is less about managing the deterrent balance between the U.S. and Russia” as it is about managing the “risk of what’s usually called loose nukes,” Political Science professor Avery Goldstein said.
Goldstein explained the United States wants to minimize the risk of smaller Russian tactical nuclear weapons falling into the hands of rogue regimes or terrorist groups, although such a scenario is very unlikely.
The president needs two-thirds of the Senate, 67 votes, to approve an international treaty. Vocal endorsements of the treaty from Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and six former Republican Secretaries of State, however, have not convinced many Republican lawmakers.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) — who holds the second-highest Republican position in the Senate — has led the charge against the proposed treaty. He and other Senate Republicans have expressed concerns that the U.S. nuclear stockpile has not been modernized and that the treaty might restrict America’s ability to build more Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.
“Modernization is very important for Republicans,” College Republicans Treasurer, former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist and Wharton junior Charles Gray said. “But it’s not just the funding,” he added, arguing that Republicans want a plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons system over time.
“When a treaty with broad bipartisan support has been in the Senate for that long, it’s more likely about politics and not policy,” Undergraduate Assembly member and College senior Grant Dubler said. “Republicans have said they will not vote for anything until the tax bill is passed, so it’s possible the Senate does not end up getting to the treaty this session, which would be a shame,” he added.
“It’s really important that we follow President Obama on this,” said Penn Democrats Communications Director and College freshman Andrew Brown. Brown explained that Republicans are “largely against this treaty because they don’t want to support the policies of President Obama,” arguing that many party supporters are realizing they cannot oppose the president on every issue.
Addressing accusations that Republicans are playing political games with the treaty, Gray argued that because “we’re going to be locked into these numbers for quite a while,” Republicans accused of “stalling” actually just need time to negotiate out all the details.
The White House has acquiesced on some Republican demands, such as spending about $85 billion on modernization over the next 10 years.
Some of the treaty’s advocates remain hopeful that the pact will get through the Senate this year. Mark Helmke, a spokesman for Lugar, said in a Dec. 11 Bloomberg article that enough Senators have expressed their support for the treaty to ratify it.
According to Bloomberg, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also said in a speech last week that talks between the White House and Kyl were “very close” to a deal and could vote on treaty “next week,” and the two Republican senators from Maine — Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — have recently voiced their support for ratification publicly.Comments powered by Disqus
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