ON ITS merits, the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed last spring by Russia and the United States ought to have been ratified by the Senate months ago. Its modest but sound strategic warhead reductions and robust verification system would make Americans safer, while bolstering the case for nuclear non-proliferation around the world. Former officials such as Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Colin Powell, and William Perry as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have all said the treaty serves the national interest.
Sad to say, however, the ratification process appears caught up in partisan gamesmanship. Republicans have been hinting they will not vote for “New START’’ in the current lame-duck session of Congress unless they get their way on several other issues, including “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ and the Dream Act for illegal immigration. But the arms treaty has nothing to do with those issues, and all of them should be decided on their own terms.
A failure to ratify the treaty during the lame-duck session would open up a possibility that the next Senate might allow it to wither on the vine. Leading Republicans insist that Congress hasn’t adequately vetted the treaty, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted in an interview, this is the Congress that has held 18 hearings on the treaty and had over 900 of its questions answered by the Obama administration.
The administration should continue to give skeptical senators every possible reassurance about modernization of the nation’s nuclear deterrent, future missile defense plans, or any other reasonable security concerns. But now is the time, and this is the Congress, to rise above party politicking and ratify a nuclear-arms treaty that meets some of the nation’s clearest security needs.