Last Friday, the Senate Republican Policy Committee (RPC) sent a memo to Republican foreign and defense policy staff with the message that “it cannot be the case that the time is now for the Senate to vote on New START.” The RPC’s latest stale offering is a response to the Obama administration’s drive to secure Senate approval of the treaty before the end of the year.
Kelsey Hartigan over at NSN has a nice takedown of the memo, as does Max Bergmann at the Wonk Room. As Kelsey notes, the RPC conveniently ignores the enormous support for the treaty from our military and retired Republican officials. Indeed, one has to wonder why the Republicans are acting so anti-military.
What’s also revealing is that the RPC concedes that the substantive case against New START is largely baseless. For example, note the following statements from the memo:
“Although the treaty may very well preserve the ability of the United States to modernize its nuclear forces…”
“The [State Department’s] fact sheet then asserts that the treaty provides no constraints on deploying conventional prompt global strike capabilities. This does not answer the question of whether the Administration is committed to developing those capabilities.”
“[T]he [State Department’s] fact sheet asserts that the treaty provides no constraints on deploying the most effective missile defenses possible. Like other statements made in this section of the fact sheet, it may be a true statement…”
The only actual substantive concern the RPC can come up with is on the issue of verification. The memo refers to classified objections raised by Intelligence Committee ranking member Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), some of which the Senator articulated in a recent appearance on Frank Gaffney’s “Secure Freedom Radio.” The concerns are nothing new: New START drops START I’s requirement that both the U.S. and Russia exchange telemetry data from long-range missile tests; New START drops onsite monitoring of Russian missiles “coming out of the gate” at the Votkinsk missile production plant; Russia has a history of cheating on past arms control agreements; etc.
Of course what the RPC memo doesn’t tell you is that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates testified that “a key contribution of this treaty [New START] is its provision for a strong verification regime.” Gates also noted that “we don’t need telemetry to monitor compliance with this treaty.” The same goes for Votkinsk. The memo also fails to mention that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen declared that he is “very comfortable with the verification regime that exists in the treaty right now.” Mullen has also pointed out that under New START “there are almost twice as many inspections per facility, per year than under the previous treaty.” Re: allegations of Russian cheating, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) noted last year: “Our experiences over many years have proven the effectiveness of the [START I] Treaty’s verification provisions and served to build a basis for confidence between the two countries when doubts arose.”
The reality is that New START contains an updated set of data exchange and monitoring provisions that are more than adequate to verify Russia’s compliance with the treaty. And let’s not forget: We’ve had no on-site monitoring presence in Russia since START I expired last December. If New START is not ratified we will continue to lack an essential window into the size and makeup of Russia’s arsenal. Critics would do well not to confuse a different verification regime for a weak verification regime.
In sum, the RPC admits that the treaty does not limit our ability to modernize our forces, does not prohibit the U.S. from deploying conventional prompt global strike capabilities, and does not contain meaningful constraints on missile defense. And it raises concerns about verification that have been debunked over and over again.
All the more reason, then, for the RPC to dispense with its senseless and politically motivated calls for indefinite delay and further concessions on issues peripheral to the treaty. It’s long past time for Republican Senators to support New START. Not only would doing so demonstrate responsible leadership, but further delay or defeat of the treaty could blow back up in the GOP’s face. As Robert Kagan put it in an op-ed aimed at his fellow Republicans in yesterday’s Washington Post, the GOP has very little to lose if it supports the treaty, but very much to lose if it rejects the treaty.