The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected soon to vote on President Obama's New START. As usual, its majority is lining up to perform the role of rubber-stamp on whatever treaty an executive signs and wants ratified.
To ensure that outcome, the committee holds hearings where only proponents are allowed to testify. When it feels the need at least to acknowledge that there actually are opponents, the latter are typically outnumbered ten-to-one. The effect is as predictable as it is cynical: Most panel members know of no reason to disapprove ratification. That vote then becomes justification for other Senators to forego the kind of due diligence on the treaty they might otherwise feel compelled to perform.
The Founding Fathers had a very different role in mind for the Senate. Recognizing that treaties could effectively alter the Constitution and jeopardize national security, they entrusted to the Senate a unique and extraordinary power: No treaty could become binding on the United States without the Senate's "advice and consent."
In addition to giving the legislature's upper house this direct role in treaty-making, the Framers enshrined in the Constitution a high threshold for such consent: Not just a simple majority but fully two-thirds of the Senate must give their approval for any treaty to be ratified.
Clearly, our visionary forefathers' intention was to preclude the ratification of defective treaties. They did not count on Senators deciding that, instead of serving as serious quality-control agents on accords that would shape the sovereignty and security of the nation, they would function as little more than quaint parliamentary appendages, mere speed bumps enroute to the preordained approval of whatever the executive serves up.
Such an abdication of one of the Senate's most important functions might be tolerable, if reprehensible, provided the executive branch were doing its job - negotiating thoughtfully and forcefully on behalf of and toward ends that actually advance U.S. interests. Dereliction of Senate responsibilities is completely unacceptable, however, when a President is so set on getting an accord that he will agree to essentially whatever the other party dictates.
Unfortunately, the Senate's spotty record in recent decades of taking seriously its role in the treaty-making process has only served to encourage successive executives to settle for bad treaties - and trust that they would not be held accountable for the defects. The old saw "You want it bad, you'll get it bad" has a corollary: "If no one will keep you from settling for bad, you will settle for bad."
New START is a case in point. Despite the accolades heaped on this treaty by virtually every witness allowed to testify about it (see above), there are serious problems with both the accord itself and the ominous Obama denuclearization policy from which it has sprung, and which it is supposed to advance. These include:
* New START does nothing to mitigate the most serious nuclear threats in the world today: China, Iran and North Korea. If anything, the otherwise unnecessary U.S. reductions in warheads and delivery systems mandated by the treaty will probably serve as incentives (in any were needed) to the accelerating Chinese effort to establish itself as a 21st Century superpower.
* New START will ensure that the Russians have substantially more warheads (including ten times as many tactical nuclear weapons) than the United States can field. The treaty might be more accurately called New SALT - in keeping with the strategic arms agreements from the détente era that locked in Russian advantages and were repudiated by Ronald Reagan, who insisted on equality.
* New START impinges upon U.S. long-range, conventionally-armed missile options, has serious verification shortcomings and will afford the Russians a de facto veto over American missile defenses. What the Russians wanted, they got from our negotiators.
The larger problem is that Senate consent to new START would be taken as an affirmation of Barack Obama's bid to "rid the world of nuclear weapons." Since the President's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) expressly prohibits the production of new nuclear weapons, the testing of the obsolescing ones we have and the "devaluing" of the nuclear enterprise - and therefore, ineluctably, the work that requires our most competent scientists and engineers - the only nuclear power that is being denuclearized is ours, through sustained malign neglect and atrophy. (See a
The good news is that forty-one Senators signaled last December that they would not consent to ratification if the Obama administration failed to provide for the modernization of the U.S. deterrent. But thanks to the NPR's diktats, it cannot comply.
In the hope that Senators will opt to be rubberstamps rather than real quality- control agents, Team Obama has offered a classic bait-and-switch. It has provided a back-of-the-envelope plan which ostensibly would spend some $85 billion over ten years on "modernization." Set aside the fact that most of the money is in far out-year budgets - and, is therefore, but a gleam in the eye. Most of it is already programmed for ongoing operations and maintenance. Some would go to upgrading Manhattan Project-era facilities.
But how many new nuclear weapons would we get for $85 billion? Nada. Not even one.
If Senators take their constitutional responsibilities seriously, or even just meant what forty-one of them formally committed to in writing seven months ago, they must not rubber-stamp the New START Treaty. Just say No.