Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Blog-on-Blog: Will Obama’s START Treaty Pass the Senate?

Posted by K.E. White on April 7, 2010

Nukes of Hazard offers some good commentary on whether the U.S.-Russia Prague Treaty (Obama’s ‘New START’) can get the 67 votes necessary for Senate ratification.

Travis Sharp suggests partisan considerations may ultimately decide the treaty’s fate:

But, if they don’t vote solely on their constituents’ interests, what will drive senators’ calculations? Information, ideology, and partisanship would seem to be the three main factors. As in:

1    What type of information do senators receive about the Prague Treaty? Are the deliverers of this information credible? Remember, we haven’t done a real arms control drill for a long time, and nobody knows what the hell is going on.

2    What kind of ideology do senators have about international law, national sovereignty, arms control, and the morality of assured destruction?

3    What does partisanship dictate? Will opposing the Prague Treaty contribute to immediate electoral gains for Republicans? Do Republican senators in tough primaries need to veer right? Does it make more sense for Republicans to acquiesce to Obama now, on a Prague Treaty that is fairly modest, and save the real politico-nuclear savagery for later (read: CTBT)? Will Democrats from more conservative states, some with tough reelection fights, feel comfortable supporting the Prague Treaty?

Methinks number three looms largest in the months ahead.

But will partisan interests be the dominant ratification factor?  Three reasons why not:

First, I think it’s unlikely the 2010 midterms will be dominated by this foreign policy question.  If anything, Afghanistan may be the foreign policy weakness dominating the air-waves—a topic unlikely to help either side.

Second, domestic issues dominate the 2010 landscape.  Why would  Republicans throw out a messaging campaign that works (jobs, debt and incumbent dissatisfaction) by getting into the wonky world of non-proliferation—especially when both the NPR and New Start Treaty preserve America’s nuclear deterrent?

And finally, fighting the treaty may not deliver Republicans the victory they want.  Instead of having air-time devoted to a fight over a judicial nomination or spending disagreements, they will allow Obama to play up his role as Commander-in-Chief.  So not only do they risk they will lose, they haven’t necessarily blocked Obama either:  he can always go the executive agreement route and get by with 60 votes and a House majority.

In sum, I think Sharp’s first factor remains the most important.  First, do Senators make this a priority-one issue to fight or support.  (My guess:  even Obama’s opponents would rather stroke healthcare and debt fears).  Second, is what they are told make the treaty look radical or modest.  It seems most observers, with some exceptions, consider the NPR and New START a modest step.

Result:  I think it’s very likely Republican won’t push back too hard, and save their powder for fights down the road where 1) they have more political influence and 2) are combating a more substantial—and controversial—proposal.

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