John Podesta Op-ed on New START– Arms Control: Clarity in the Senate

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–November 18, 2010.  The following op-ed by John D. Podesta, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Progress, ran today in POLITICO:

The New START treaty has genuine bipartisan support and ratification is crucial to restore the verification system, which lapsed when the original agreement expired in 2009. Senate Republicans, however, prefer yet more delays, because they fear losing their leverage once it’s time to vote yes or no.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) must recognize that most Republicans have little interest in killing the treaty. He should schedule a vote in this lame-duck session. The United States — and the world — will then know whether Republicans choose partisanship or the security of the United States.

New START is one of few measures in recent years with significant backing from both parties. It is the extension of Presidents Ronald Reagan’s arms control legacy.

A virtual who’s who of Republican foreign policy luminaries has lined up in support. The entire military establishment backs the treaty, including the head of the Missile Defense Agency, Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, who said the treaty will “reduce the constraints on the development of the missile defense program.”

Nearly half the Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joined all the Democrats in favoring a resolution of approval by a 14-4 margin in September.

The treaty has received such broad support because it is a modest continuation of Washington’s post-Cold War commitment to reduce our nuclear arsenal and is vital to ensuring continued nuclear stability. The pact updates the verification and monitoring framework put forth by the original START treaty.

Nearly a year has gone by since the last onsite inspections of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. These inspections provide crucial information that our military planners, intelligence community and senior policy-makers need to do their job: ensuring U.S. national security.

Though a handful of GOP senators outright reject New START and are ideologically opposed to arms control, the majority are likely to support the treaty if it comes to a vote.

The Republican leadership, however, appears to be stalling — perhaps to extort as much as possible out of the Obama administration, or maybe just to make the president look ineffective and weak.

Their leverage is in dragging out the process. This tactic has worked so far — Democrats have twice delayed action to appease them. But the political upside of voting down the treaty is minimal. The glow of defeating Obama would be overshadowed by the significant and lasting downsides to U.S. national security.

Rejecting New START is likely to end, for the foreseeable future, any chance at additional negotiated reductions in Russia’s nuclear arsenal. But that is not all. Failure—or even if the ratification vote is pushed into the next Congress— is likely to have significant effect on other vital U.S. national security interests and lead allies to question America’s capacity for global leadership.

The U.S.-Russia “reset” has paved the way for greater Russian cooperation on pressuring Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons and on supply and support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. If New START goes down, or is further delayed, Russian cooperation could wane, if not end.

As we learned before Obama pushed “reset,” Russia can be an effective spoiler on many issues vital to U.S. national interests — if it so chooses. Rejecting New START would be a major incentive for it to do so again.

Our European allies are also looking on with growing concern, worried that the Continent’s greater security since the reset could again come under threat. Many are puzzled how Washington could agree to massive cuts in nuclear weapons with its mortal Cold War enemy, yet struggle to secure modest additional reductions two decades later.

Republican senators must know this, which is why — despite all their complaining — so few have said they would vote against the treaty. The votes will be there.

After seven months of consideration, 20 hearings and more than 700 questions submitted by senators, it is time to vote on New START. Republicans are likely to offer their familiar complaints — that Democrats are rushing it through and they need more time.

The Obama administration and Reid should stop these delays: Schedule the vote and force senators to choose between partisan politics and the national security of the United States.

John Podesta is the president and chief executive officer of the Center for American Progress. He served as a chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.