The right wing is flailing about in search of an argument to make against the START treaty. Finding few, they have resorted to the same obstructionist tactics used to slow down the process on other big issues such as health care. Their latest effort is to demand that the Obama administration release the negotiating record. Kim Holmes of the Heritage Foundation and formerly of the Bush administration writes in the Washington Times:
Several senators are asking to see the secret negotiating record from the administration’s official talks with Russia. Why? Because U.S. and Russian officials publicly disagree about what the treaty says… Furthermore, there are reports that U.S. negotiators actually told the Russians that the U.S. had no intention of putting strategic missile defenses in Europe. Only a careful review of the negotiating record can set the record straight.
First off there are no “reports” – there is unsubstantiated conspiratorial gossip from American right wingers about some “secret deal.” These accusations are absurd. Did the right not notice that the delays in ratifying START were do to US-Russian fights over missile defense? Demands from the Heritage foundation and Senator Jim DeMint to release the record sound like calls for transparency but really they are just transparent efforts to further throw more mud in the gears of the Senate.
Furthermore, negotiating records are not released for a reason. Releasing the record would set a horrible precedent and would create a terrible chilling effect on future treaty negotiations. As a result, American presidents have been refusing to release treaty negotiating records since George Washington – who rejected a request from the first congress. When the record was released for the INF treaty both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were so concerned and felt so strongly about that not setting a precedent due to the future “chilling effect” that they put out a statement in the committee’s final report. Senator Kerry read the statement to DeMint at a hearing last week:
Both the Administration and the Senate now face the task of ensuring the Senate review of negotiating records does not become an institutionalized procedure. The overall effect of fully exposed negotiations… would be to weaken the treaty making process and thereby damage American diplomacy. A systemic expectation of Senate perusal of every key treaties negotiating record could be expected to inhibit candor during future negotiators and induce posturing on the part of US negotiators and their counterparts during sensitive discussions.
But the real fact of the matter is that the right’s basic concerns over Russian interpretations of the START treaty’s impact on missile defense are entirely misplaced because ultimately what matters is what is in the actual text of the treaty. Peter Baker explained, “as a unilateral statement, it has no force other than as a symbolic political declaration.” Hence it’s unilateral. The US can do whatever it wants on missile defense even build some insanely destabilizing system.
But why did the Russians release a unilateral statement? Well they happen to have a radical right within their own country that is extremely distrustful and paranoid about the intentions of the United States. My colleague Sam Charap recently interviewed retired Russian General Viktor Yesin, he was the man whose job it was to pick out which US cities to nuke. Yesin noted that the unilateral statements made by the Russians were done for purely domestic reasons. And Charap added, “it was a nod to a domestic political constituency rather than a warning to the United States.” Watch it:
GENERAL YESIN: The government of any country wants to maintain political stability. This unilateral statement was made as a compromise for the fears that a portion of the [Russian] population has [about U.S. missile defense plans].
CHARAP: Gen. Yesin was referring to hawks in the Russian political and military establishment who tend to be deeply concerned about the possibility that a future U.S. missile defense system would limit Russia’s first-strike capacity. The Kremlin made the statement as a signal to that group that their concerns have been taken into account. According to the General, it was a nod to a domestic political constituency rather than a warning to the United States.