On April 1, the United States and Russia agreed to negotiate a follow-on agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in order to plan further nuclear weapons reductions.
The reaction from Senate Republicans: silence.
On April 5 in Prague, President Obama pledged to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.
And Republicans Senators said . . . nothing. An examination of press releases posted by more than 30 Republican Senate offices found no comments, whether positive or negative, on the President’s bold nuclear weapons vision.
Don’t think the lack of comment came from the Senate being in recess. The same day that President Obama gave his Prague speech, North Korea fired off a missile test.
The responses were immediate…
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) called the test “a wake-up call.”
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) condemned North Korea and called for sanctions (as well as more funding for missile defense).
Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also found time to comment on the North Korean test.
But no one issued a press release on START or nuclear weapons elimination.
The day after the Obama address, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced weapons program cuts and increases.
A number of GOP Senators found time to condemn: Chambliss and Isakson of Georgia on ending the F-22 program; Thune of South Dakota unhappy about shelving the next generation bomber; several Senators on missile defense cuts. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) denounced Obama for disarming America in a time of war.
Some even praised: Hatch of Utah happy with the air tanker decision; Collins of Maine delighted that Maine shipyards may build all three DDG-1000 destroyers; McCain with the entire plan.
But the nuclear weapons decisions? Nada, zip, zilch. Not a word.
What does it mean? Is silence golden? Is silence consent? Or is silence, well, just silence?
Republicans will rush to the ramparts to protect conventional weapons programs in their states, support missile defense and denounce North Korea. But they are reluctant to either support or oppose new policies on nuclear weapons.
During the Bush years, the GOP was only lukewarm about nuclear weapons. The fight against new nuclear weapons was led for years by Ohio Republican Rep. David Hobson.
Last year, when Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) tried on the House floor to add $10 million for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, he lost 145 – 271, with 44 Republicans voting against him.
What’s the bottom line? It appears Republican Senators are “reserving their options” on a new nuclear weapons treaty. Which gives arms controllers time to educate lawmakers and the public about the benefits of a follow on to START.
And that is good news indeed.