New START: A Win for Common Sense

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By Michael Krepon – Exceptional performances deserve recognition, and there are
many worth noting after the Senate’s consent to ratifying New START with five
votes to spare on December 22nd.  Here’s
my short list:

1) The White House.  President
Obama had little choice but to place a new strategic arms reduction treaty at
the top of his “to do” list in the nuclear field, given the December 2009 drop-dead
date for START I, and the gossamer constraints of the Bush administration’s
Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.  SORT’s
reductions would have been obligatory only at the very last second of the Treaty’s
duration – on December 31, 2012 — after which, everyone would be free to do
whatever they wished and could afford.  SORT’s
reductions would not have been subject to on-site monitoring or, for that, matter,
verification arrangements of any kind. An arms reduction treaty with Moscow in name only did not serve U.S. national
security interests and needed to be replaced.

Reducing nuclear dangers requires top down leadership. If
the two largest holders of nuclear weapons can’t agree on structures, rules, and
monitoring arrangements for arms reductions, all of the other rules governing
nonproliferation become weaker. The glue for the global nonproliferation system
is produced in many locales, but no one can substitute for manufacturing
shortfalls in Washington and Moscow. 
President Obama’s ambitions for nuclear reductions were pared down at
the negotiating table, but he succeeded in bringing home an agreement that
further reduced nuclear forces in a structured, verifiable way, while
protecting all necessary and worthy options for ballistic missile defenses. Domestic
deal making associated with ratification shored up the nuclear labs, establishing
conditions for deeper reductions down the road. 
Along the way, the President delivered the Prague speech, convened a nuclear security
summit, and produced a nuclear posture review.

Vice President Biden led a well-crafted vote-getting process
on Capitol Hill, which succeeded, for the first time ever, in garnering a two-thirds
super-majority in the Senate against the preferences of the Minority Leader and
his Republican Whip.  The White House’s
game plan worked: Senator Kyl, the Minority Whip who held Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell’s proxy, was said to be negotiating in good faith.  His many questions were answered and his
stated concerns were addressed with funding add-ons and delays in considering
the Treaty.  Presidential pledges were
submitted during the end-game.  Reasonable,
substantive concerns of Republican Senators were addressed.  Complaints over due process did not gain
traction because calls for further delay were clearly a surrogate for shelving
the Treaty.  When the White House finally
decided to roll the dice and call the roll on New START, its strategy succeeded
in splitting off sufficient Republican votes from Irreconcilable Senators, including,
not surprisingly, Senator Kyl.  A high
stakes game of poker, no doubt, but the White House created a winning hand.     

 2) Secretaries
Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates.  In my
adult lifetime, I cannot recall an administration in which the Secretaries of
State and Defense worked so well together. 
There was no room for error in handling this Treaty, and both had the
standing and the connections on Capitol Hill to work the Senate, even after
Democrats were shellacked in the mid-term elections. Their designated treaty
negotiators, Rose Gottemoeller and Ted Warner, demonstrated stamina and grit.            

 3) Senators Dick
Lugar, John Kerry, and Harry Reid.  Senator
Lugar rarely gets in front of a treaty ratification process and stands up
against Party Leaders.  He did so this
time, when the stakes were very high and when moderate Republicans in the
Senate needed a leader. He held the fort until enough of the cavalry came. Senator
Kerry earned his stripes as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.  He was a work horse in Committee and on the
floor of the Senate. Majority Leader Reid clarified the importance of his re-election
by once again demonstrating his tenacity and counter-punching skills.  It took fifteen rounds, but New START won.      

 4) Graybeards, especially
of the Republican variety. The quality, character, and experience of prior
administration officials, former Senators, and ex-military commanders who
supported New START spoke volumes about the utility of the Treaty and its
pedigree.  These elders provided just
enough anchor to Republicans on Capitol Hill who are in danger of losing their
moorings on arms control.

 5)  Thirteen tradition-minded, yet forward-looking
Republican Senators who remembered that their Party has championed nuclear arms
reductions and who understood the down-side risks of torpedoing New START.  They are a dwindling breed.  The last arms control treaty to be ratified
by the Senate, the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, garnered 29 Republican

 6) Senator Kyl and
the Heritage Foundation also deserve recognition: they turned a modest, moderate,
uncontroversial treaty into a cause célèbre. 
In doing so, they have narrowed the administration’s options and
solidified opposition to nuclear arms control by Republicans on Capitol Hill
and among those running for their Party’s presidential nomination in 2012. 

 The implications of
the Republican Party’s drift from its moorings are very worrisome.  But ’tis the season to count one’s blessings
and to be grateful for gifts – including a lame duck Congress that has advanced
and international security.


Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Stimson Center.  This essay also appeared on



Photo Credit: President Obama shares a toast with the members of his National Security Staff who worked on the New START
nuclear arms control agreement, Dec. 22, 2010. (Official White House Photo by
Pete Souza)







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