The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expires in December. While much will need to be done in order for a replacement treaty to be signed and ratified by then, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov got off to a great “start” earlier this month.
Even the reset button mistranslation faux pas could be a positive (no hard feelings, both sides have a laugh, take vodka shots, reduce nukes – simple).
Ideally, the START follow-on treaty will reduce stockpiles to 1,000 or fewer warheads per side with an accompanying comprehensive verification regime. Russia and the United States currently possess around 16,000 nuclear weapons. Nuclear experts Sidney Drell and James Goodby previously have outlined what a 1,000-per-side force structure might look like for the United States.
Much domestic support exists for a new arms reduction treaty. Across the political spectrum, prominent politicians and policy wonks have supported mutual, transparent steps by the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Especially encouraging is the large number of moderates and conservatives who have spoken out in favor of reducing nukes.
Concluding a replacement to START, however, will require more than vocal support from moderates and conservatives. It will require a two-thirds (67 votes) majority in the U.S. Senate. That means lawmakers will have to put their money where there mouths are.
Getting politicians to do what they say they want to do: not impossible, just challenging. Thankfully, a number of sitting Republican Senators have supported previous arms reduction treaties, as noted in this new chart.
Other than Arlen Specter, Republicans still in the Senate today voted along party lines on the last three nuclear arms treaties. Thus, achieving a two-thirds majority on the replacement to START will prove difficult even with Democrats controlling so many seats in the Senate.
Obama will need to present the treaty to the Senate with well-researched military, political, and economic arguments for ratification in order to garner the broadest possible coalition for approval. The administration should reach out to Senators Lugar, Specter, and McCain during negotiation of the treaty to build bipartisan support. Lugar and Specter are long-time supporters of nuclear arms reductions, and McCain supported reductions during his presidential campaign.