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European Support for New Nuclear Treaty More Certain than Senate Ratification

  • Robert Raffaele

U.S. President Barack Obama's push for ratification of a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia by the end of the year faces an uncertain future. European leaders at the recent NATO summit in Portugal offered their support. But here in Washington, Mr. Obama faces resistance from opposition Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

The White House says the clock is ticking on America's security.

"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the new START treaty this year," said President Obama. "There is a no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear and they are high."

Several former U.S. secretaries of state and defense back Mr. Obama's effort to finalize a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia.

Current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also described the need in stark terms.

"For anyone to think that we can postpone it, or we can avoid it, is, I'm afraid, vastly underestimating the continuing threat that is posed to our country," she said.

Last April, Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the new START treaty.
It would reduce each country's long-range nuclear arsenal by as much as 30 percent.

The president has urged the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty by the end of the year, but he is not certain of the 67 votes needed in that chamber.

Recent victories in mid-term elections helped Republican lawmakers to narrow the Democratic Party's majority in the Senate.

Some say those numbers make Senate ratification of the treaty even less likely, once the new Congress convenes in January.

Roy Blunt is among incoming senators seeking to delay a vote until then.

"This is a critically important issue for the country," he said. "If it was so important it should have gotten done, they should have gotten it done."

The European Union and Russia are urging the United States to ratify the new treaty, which replaces the 1991 START agreement that expired in December.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"A delayed ratification of the START treaty will be damaging to the overall security environment in Europe," he said. "So we strongly urge both parties to ratify the START treaty as early as possible."

But James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation says those European voices do not give Mr. Obama any leverage in the Senate.

"First of all this treaty's been out there for months. If people in Western Europe were really excited about this treaty, they would have said something before now," said Carafano. "In terms of the calculus of shifting how senators will vote on this treaty, I don't think anything that happened in Lisbon really matters."

Carafano says the treaty gives Russia too much freedom to modernize its weapons - an advantage he says Washington does not seek.

"This president [Obama] has never, ever said that he is going to modernize the American nuclear arsenal," he said. "As a matter of fact he has openly declared that he is not going to do that. Now what he's talked about is putting money into the nuclear infrastructure that supports the nuclear arsenal. That's not modernization."

Carafano also dismissed NATO's announcement in Lisbon that Russia agreed to cooperate with the alliance on missile defense.

President Medvedev stopped short of fully endorsing the Europe-U.S. missile defense shield, aimed at protecting Europe against a possible attack by Iran.

He said the Kremlin needs more details about the system.