The release of Obama’s budget unveiled a major increase in funding for nuclear weapons labs and stewardship for the nuclear stockpile. This increase should effectively eliminate any claims that the US nuclear stockpile is deteriorating and should put conservatives like Senator Kyl on the defensive.
While Kyl’s arguments were hardly credible, this funding increase makes them even less so. In response to the funding increase all Jon Kyl could say is that the increase was “a definite improvement over previous years.” In a sane political climate involving negotiations, tradeoffs, and compromise, this increase in funding should be enough to secure ratification of a new START treaty (whenever that is finally wrapped up). However, as my boss told the Financial Times, our “politics suck” and as a result there is little evidence that this sort of bargaining will yield Republican support. Jeffrey Lewis explains:
This is the context in which to understand Senator Jon Kyl’s opposition to the various arms control treaties: He is Minority Whip and aspires to be the leading Republican voice on security issues. Perhaps, like another aspiring whip, he imagines even greater offices are within his grasp. His strategy to achieve these things is to make votes on arms control treaties a test of Senator’s Republican bona fides. If you give Republicans a choice between a well-funded nuclear weapons complex and a talking point to conflate the Prague agenda with unilateral disarmament — which is a favorite claim by Senator Kyl — most will understandably choose the latter. “Unilateral disarmament” is the “death panel” of the nuclear weapons debate.
Lewis, I think, nails the political logic driving Kyl’s opposition. However, in response the political strategy that Lewis advocates for START treaty ratification bizarrely contradicts his entire analysis by concluding that the only hopeful strategy ratification advocates are left with is one of:
attempting to depoliticize the treaties, recognizing that there will be some additional horse-trading at a later date. It might not always succeed, but it is probably the only strategy that will.
Attempting to “de-politicize” the treaty ratification process for START and CTBT in an effort to gain widespread bipartisan support would be great if possible, but there are clear signs that it is not. Kyl for instance, has already described the START negotiations as “malpractice.” In other words, the treaty ratification process has not even started and it already has become politicized.
The basic confines of the GOP’s political strategy in the Senate is to oppose and obstruct the Administration’s legislative priorities in order to further the sense of Democratic incompetence and the “throw the bums out” mentality pervading through the country. Additionally, it is clear to all that ratification of a new START treaty would be a hugely significant accomplishment for the White House, which as a result, makes supporting the treaty antithetical to the conservatives’ political strategy.
Therefore, it makes little sense to pursue a ratification strategy that seeks to “de-politicize” treaty ratification, when it is clear that treaty opponents will in fact aggressively politicize treaty ratification. The end result of this approach to ratification is a form of unilateral disarmament, in which conservatives make cheap but effective political shots – accusing progressives of endangering the country, etc – while treaty supporters in the Senate are stuck flat footed, abiding by a political strategy that seeks to avoid political sparring.
Treaty advocates should recognize that START only gets ratified by making sure there are political costs for those who oppose the treaty. This means not just making good coherent arguments about why the treaty will make us safer and reduce the risk of nuclear holocaust, but also putting conservatives like Kyl on the defensive and forcing them to defend their extremism, since they are after all opposing the extension of a Reagan-initiated treaty.