Will The Hard-Right Block START Ratification?

The US and Russia appear to have reached an agreement on an important new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (START). Such an accord promises to save money for both countries, reduce the risk of a horrible nuclear accident, and restore the credibility of the international nonproliferation regime just as the challenge from Iran makes cear the need for reinvigoration. But as Max Bergmann writes, though the basic framework for the accord used to command wide bipartisan support, today the hard-right seems to have a lot of sway over the Senate:

Despite this treaty having extensive bi-partisan support among senior foreign policy officials — such as George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, Richard Lugar (R-IN), Colin Powell –ratification is far from assured. There are real questions over whether the Senate GOP will seek to obstruct the ratification of the treaty. Treaties require a two-thirds majority, therefore eight or nine Republican votes are needed to ratify this treaty. If the Senate GOP wants to kill it they can. Therefore if ratification becomes a fight — it will not be a fight between Republicans and Obama, it will be a fight within the Republican caucus — between moderates and the far right.

In a sign of how extreme the GOP Senate leadership has become, Bloomberg reported, following word the treaty was done, that “Senate Republicans would object to linkages similar to the one in the 1991 treaty.” In other words, what was acceptable to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, would not be acceptable to Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ).

The only objection that Kyl’s staff could come up with is that the treaty contains irrelevant and entirely symbolic line about missile defense in the preamble to the treaty. Ryan Patmintra, a spokesman for Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, went on the record, insisting that “unilateral declarations that the Russian Federation could use as leverage against you or your successors when U.S. missile defense decisions are made.”


Realistically, your average Senator doesn’t give a fig about nuclear arms control, so this will likely come down to raw politics. If people feel that the “obstruct everything all the time” strategy has paid off, then they’ll side with Kyl. If they feel it’s been counterproductive or problematic, they’ll side with Lugar.