Is the Senate likely to consent to the ratification of New START? It might appear so now, but things can change. At the moment, it appears that approval will turn on whether the Obama Administration’s commitment to modernizing the nuclear weapons infrastructure is adequate in the eyes of the Senate and will be sustained after ratification. While even here things are uncertain, it is possible that the Obama Administration will do enough to satisfy the Senate, even if in reality the modernization plan will not result in a sustained program.
It is all but certain, however, that the approval process in the Senate will not stay on its currently projected path. Problems with the Treaty continue to emerge. These include, for example, the possible exclusion of rail-mobile ICBMs from coverage under the Treaty’s launcher limits, the lack of a proper definition of air-launched ICBMs under the counting rules and the fact that the U.S. and Russia have failed to agree on the matter of limitations on the U.S. missile defense program. A failure by the Administration to resolve these and potentially other problems should result in the Senate demanding access, in classified form, to the Treaty’s negotiating record. What the Administration gave to the Russians “under the table” at the negotiations is a legitimate Senate concern. Finally, it is not at all inconceivable that Senate action on this Treaty will be pushed off until after the election and political circumstances in the Senate may change.
Further, all Americans concerned about keeping the nation safe need to keep in mind the big picture. If a cohesive minority in the Senate can effectively challenge the Obama Administration on New START, even if the Treaty is ultimately approved by the Senate, the rest of the Obama Administration’s arms control agenda will be subject to more serious scrutiny. This is as it should be because this agenda includes a follow-on to New START, Senate consent to the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (ignoring the fact that the Senate already rejected this Treaty in 1999), a Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) Treaty and its deceptive companion, a “code of conduct” for space.