President Obama became the first Democratic President in history today to have an arms-control treaty ratified on his watch. The New START Treaty was approved in the Senate by a vote of 71-26. Thirteen Republicans, a quarter of the Republican caucus, broke with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). This is the first time an arms control treaty has ever passed without the support of the minority leader. As Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said yesterday, “In today’s Senate, 70 votes is yesterday’s 95.”
A year ago, President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for his vision of moving toward a world without nuclear weapons. The ratification of the START treaty is a small but important step toward this goal. It ensures that nuclear stability is maintained and lays the groundwork for future negotiations with Russia, paving the way for deeper cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. While the START treaty has been called a modest treaty, the implications of its failure would have been anything but and would have caused dangerous upheaval in the post-Cold War nuclear order.
Republican opposition looked increasingly petty toward the end of the START debate, with most complaints relating to Senate process. Leslie Gelb, president-emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that opposition to New START “seriously damages [Republican] credibility on national security.”