| JRL Home | JRL Simple/Mobile | RSS | Newswire | Archives | JRL Newsletter | Support | About
Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Obama's final push for New START

U.S. Bomber in Flight Above the CloudsU.S. President Barack Obama signaled from his bully pulpit that he intends to push for Senate ratification of the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia before the end of the year, while his Democrats still enjoy a large majority in the Senate. Obama sat down for a high-profile meeting at the White House on Thursday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and a group of former secretaries of state, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, and who unanimously support the new treaty.

Debate on ratification in the Senate will likely take place either in the second or third week of December. On November 30, the president will hold a meeting with Congressional leaders of both parties to decide when the Senate will discuss New START, perhaps for the last time.

Risky business

This is a risky move by all accounts. Obama could win, but he could also fall flat on his face, in which case he can kiss New START, the "reset" and his reputation goodbye. When Congress refuses to ratify a treaty negotiated by a president, the slight is never forgotten and never forgiven. A defeat on New START would deal an especially hard blow to Obama, as the treaty represents his only chance to retroactively earn his Nobel Peace Prize.

The White House is attempting to corner Republicans during the lame-duck session of Congress, before they take over the House and narrow the margin in the Senate in the new session beginning on January 3. Ratification of international treaties requires approval by two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes.

According to Obama's logic, if the Republican Senators refuse to join the Democratic majority in the Senate and vote yes, they will bear full responsibility for blocking a treaty that is important for the world in general and U.S. national security in particular. They will also be responsible for obstructing the reset with President Dmitry Medvedev and all the serious consequences that would surely follow.

Republicans are being warned that if the treaty collapses, Moscow could refuse to support efforts to pressure Iran over its nuclear program, close the transport corridor for NATO supplies through Russia, and halt any further expansion in its cooperation on Afghanistan. Finally, the reputation of the United States as a responsible actor that respects international law would be tarnished.

These are solid arguments, but the Republicans have their own reasoning. Their leaders say that it is unethical to force a major treaty through the outgoing Congress. There is a reason voters sent six more Republicans to the Senate and sent six Democrats packing. On November 2, they expressed support for the Republican Party, and the party has reservations about the treaty. Therefore, it's only fair to give the treaty a second look. The people vested more trust in the Republicans, and so their views must be taken into account. A lame-duck Congress can only ratify a lame treaty.

Ten incoming Republican senators published an open letter to Obama, which reads, in part: "Indeed, no bilateral strategic arms reduction treaty with the Soviet Union or Russia has ever been ratified during a lame duck session... We call on you to defer action on this arms control treaty until the Senate reconvenes in the 112th Congress and we are able to participate fully in its deliberations on New START."

These are serious arguments, but the administration is in no mood to hear it. Come January 3, Obama will have to persuade 14 Republican senators, instead of nine today - a much steeper hill to climb. Only three of eight Republicans on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations voted the treaty out of committee. Another seven senators are on the fence, and the White House is hoping to win them over.

If Obama fails, and the treaty gets stuck in the Senate, it will be subjected to double the scrutiny next year.

Moscow only cares about results

Gary Samore, Obama's top adviser on arms control, believes that the treaty would get held up in the new Congress indefinitely, breeding mistrust on the part of the Russians, who will wonder why they should deal with the Obama administration if it can't deliver on its promises. It is not important who is to blame - Congress or the White House. Moscow only cares about the end result.

Even now, the math in the Senate does not bode well for ratification. The Democratic majority in the Senate will lose one more vote on November 29, when Republican Mark Kirk will be sworn in early to replace Roland Burris, who was appointed to fill Obama's vacated Senate seat after he was elected president. And come January 3, the math becomes even more daunting. The Democrats' 58-42 majority will shrink to 53-47.

One thing is for sure, Obama would much rather do battle with 9 Republicans than 14.

Keyword Tags:

Russia, Nuclear Issues - U.S.-Russian Relations - Russia, NATO - Russia News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

Bookmark and Share - Back to the Top -        


Bookmark and Share

- Back to the Top -        

  Follow Johnson's Russia List on Twitter Tweet