Hold on to your hat. No sooner had the Senate finished approving the so-called New START Treaty by the closest margin of any bilateral arms control agreement with Moscow than the accord's principal architect served notice of her ambitious plans for further denuclearizing the United States. Unfortunately, the disarmament agenda Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller is helping President Obama pursue will make the world more dangerous, not safer for America and its interests.
As with Mr. Obama, who reportedly first espoused the idea of ridding the world of nuclear weapons while a radical undergraduate at Columbia, Ms. Gottemoeller is no newcomer to the idea of "global zero." In the 1990s, she even lent her name to a report recommending that the United States engage in nuclear disarmament unilaterally, if necessary. During the Clinton administration, then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen declined to give her a top Pentagon post in the face of intense controversy about her views. She subsequently secured a consolation prize in the form of a succession of senior positions in the Department of Energy.
Last year, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton entrusted Rose Gottemoeller with responsibility for negotiating the so-called "New START" Treaty with the Russians. Their shared determination to secure that accord no matter what led to a succession of concessions that made the final product lopsidedly advantageous to the Kremlin. A desire to obscure that reality doubtless contributed to the administration's refusal to share with the U.S. Senate the record of the New START negotiations - which, in turn, contributed to the uninformed nature of the abbreviated debate and vote for the treaty during the just-concluded lame-duck session.
Next up on Secretary Gottemoeller's agenda are the following, among other, problematic initiatives:
-The Senate's urgent reconsideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). A majority of Senators rejected that accord in 1999 on the grounds that it is unverifiable and inconsistent with the maintenance of a safe, secure and reliable U.S. nuclear deterrent. Both defects persist today.
-Further and still-more problematic cuts in U.S. and Russian strategic forces. Such reductions would likely preclude the maintenance of the sort of balanced deterrent posture based on a "Triad" of land- and sea-based missiles and long-range bombers that the United States has correctly deemed necessary for decades - and that may be needed more than ever in the future.
-A treaty on so-called "tactical" nuclear forces. A clear defect of New START was that it left Moscow with a ten-to-one advantage in such weapons, whose destructive power is often greater than that of the Hiroshima bomb. Even if the Kremlin dropped its historic opposition to limiting these arms in a new accord, verification would be impossible as a practical matter and the price high in terms of further reducing the "nuclear umbrella" U.S. tactical nukes provide our allies.
We know from reporting by the Washington Times' Bill Gertz that Ms. Gottemoeller and her boss, Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher, are beavering away at negotiations with Russia that would add to the already ominous constraints New START will impose on U.S. missile defenses. Having largely kept the Senate in the dark about these talks, it remains to be seen if the Obama administration will be willing to submit whatever they produce to the Senate for its advice and consent, or use the Bilateral Consultative Commission the new treaty establishes to circumvent legislators altogether.
Unfortunately, that uncertainty is only increased by the way the Senate conducted the "debate" on New START. Despite the best efforts of critics led by Republican Whip Jon Kyl, the Senate's truncated lame-duck deliberations were, by and large, superficial and uninformed. All too often, testimonials from former officials substituted for due-diligence. Binding remedies to the treaty's defects were blocked in favor of cosmetic, and surely fleeting, understandings with Team Obama.
In the end, however, the size of the vote - 71-26 with 13 Republicans siding with the majority - obscured a reality that Ms. Gottemoeller and her colleagues would do well to bear in mind. New START would likely not have been approved next year. Eleven of the incoming GOP freshmen senators asked the leadership not to deny them a chance to consider and vote on this accord. Between those who are replacing Democrats who voted for New START and those taking the seats of Republicans who did so, it appears that the next Senate will be able to block further, reckless denuclearization initiatives.
That prospect looms particularly large insofar as the new membership in the Senate and the new Republican management in the House of Representatives are going to have to reckon with powerful reasons to proceed on such an agenda with extreme caution. These include: the un-reset hostility of Vladimir Putin Kremlin; the rising power and increasing aggressiveness of Communist China; the imminent nuclear weapons capability of Iran together with the proliferation cascade it is setting in train; and Iran's basing of ballistic missiles in Venezuela.
Time will tell how damaging the denuclearizers' efforts to date will be. Before more harm is done, though, it behooves the Congress as a whole - and most especially the new chairmen and women of House committees responsible for the implementation of treaties (even if they are not party to their approval) - to serve notice on Mr. Obama, Ms. Gottemoeller and those who share their vision of a denuclearized America and world: Not so fast.