As of the Memorial Day recess, there has been substantial progress toward ratification of the New START agreement. While no one knows when the Senate will vote on the treaty, the Obama Administration and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have done an excellent job building support for the treaty and responding to GOP criticisms…
While many of us complained about the lack of vocal support for the treaty by the Exectuve Branch and by Senators while the negotiations were underway in 2009, those complaints have been calmed by a well-coordinated effort to secure 67 votes once the treaty was completed.
Past Administrations have been riven by national security internicene rivalries and disputes. Indeed, the President-elect appeared to like the theme from Lincoln book of a “Team of Rivals.”
However, the New START team instead is a “Team of Teammates.” It includes the President, the Vice President, the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other key military leaders who have all sung from the same hymnal on New START. Long-time Biden aide Brian McKeon is coordinating Administration efforts and doing an excellent job.
The Administration’s campaign has included joint appearances by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen to announce the treaty signing and to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
It included major opinion pieces by Vice President Biden and Secretary Gates in the Wall Street Journal.
It has been comprised of many briefings for key Senators and staff by chief New START negotiator Rose Gottemoeller and her team.
It has also consisted of wide outreach to key former government and military leaders. When former Secetaries of States James Baker and Henry Kissinger testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, both said they had been briefed in advance by the Administration.
It incorporated key supporting roles for the Vice Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, James Cartwright, the head of the Strategic Command, Gen. Kevin Chilton, Missile Defense Agency Director Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Agency Thomas D’Agastino.
The key moment in the debate thus far has been the strongly supportive testimoney by former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger. Schlesinger, working with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), was a key figure in taking down the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1999. He also opposed ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997. A leader among conservative national security specialists, Republicans chose him to head the conservative wing of the congressionally-appointed nuclear posture commission.
Schlesinger’s prepared statement before the Foreign Relations Committee was tepid at best, but in response to committee member questions, he suggested that it was obligatory for the Senate to give its advice and consent to ratification and that failure to do so would be detrimental to U.S. security. He then proceeded to knock down some of the major criticisms of the treaty.
Support for the treaty by other major Republican figures has been very helpful. Baker, Kissinger, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor Stephen Hadley, former national Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Ambassador Linton Brooks and others have all come out in favor of the treaty.
So too has been unanimous active duty military support for the treaty and the Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review: the two have often been discussed jointly in the hearings.
It is very helpful that the two leaders of Foreign Relations, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) are working to win treaty approval. Past ratification efforts have been handicapped by unfriendly committee chairs, particularly the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), who never was enthusiastic for arms control.
Additionally, numerous Democratic Senators are speaking out for the treaty on the Senate floor and in the Foreign Relations committee, including Senators Casey (D-PA), Kaufman (D-DE), Franken (D-MN), Feingold (D-WI), Feinstein (D-CA) and Shaheen (D-NH). In hearings, the committee members have elicted positive responses from committee witnesses.
Sen. Kyl, on the Senate floor, and Sens. Jim DeMint (R-NC), Bob Corker (R-TN), James Risch (R-ID), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) in the Foreign Relations committee, have raised a series of criticisms about alleged restrictions on missile defense, the adequacy of nuclear weapons complex modernization, whether the treaty is moving too quickly, the quality of the verification procedures and other topics.
The good news is that both Administration and GOP witnesses have provided credible answers to these questions. The bad news is that Republican Senators keep raising the same issues over and over. However, none but Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has declared his opposition, Lugar has argued vigously for the treaty while Kyl has asked his fellow Republican Senators to avoid prematurely declaring a position on the treaty.
Finally, there has been substantial grassroots support for the treaty in states represented by key Republicans, with organizations muting their differences on other issues to work in harness for New START.
It remains impossible to predict timing for Senate action or state definitely that 67 votes will be in hand when the Senate votes. The Administration hopes for a vote in July but that is a wishful scenario. A vote before the end of 2010 is a more realistic goal. While the administration and its supporters should not view ratification as a given, the major battle will likely be on conditions, understandings and reservations offered to the resolution of ratification reflecting the criticisms already leveled against the treaty.
The Foreign Relations Committee will hold additional hearings (including with treaty skeptics), the Senate Armed Services Committee will conduct a hearing with cabinet secretaries and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of June 17 and the Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on verification after the intelligence community completes a new National Intelligence Estimate.
All in all – an excellent start to New START.