First it was Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). Then Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). Then Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). Now Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) has added his name to the rapidly growing list of Senators who believe it is wrong to vote on New START in a lame duck. Highlights of Voinovich’s speech today on the floor include:
- “Political expediency should never be an excuse to rush to judgment on public policy let alone our national security.”
- “I cannot in good conscience determine my support for the Treaty until the Administration assures me our ‘Reset Policy’ with Russia is a policy that enhances rather than diminishes the national security of our friends and allies throughout Europe.”
- “I must receive the strongest assurances this policy does not, once again, amount to the United States leaving our brothers and sisters in the Captive Nations alone against undue pressures from Russia.”
You can read Sen. Voinovich’s full speech below the fold:
Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the challenges America faces in our relationship with Russia and their implications on the Senate’s consideration of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – known as the START Treaty.
A number of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have spoken about the treaty’s impact on global nuclear nonproliferation. I would like to use my remarks today to highlight my concerns about the treaty in the broader context of: 1) the Obama Administration’s “Reset Policy” towards Russia; and 2) the New START treaty’s impact on our allies in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. I believe these concerns must be addressed by the Administration before I can determine my support for the treaty.
Work with Captive Nations
Mr. President, over the last decade I have been an ardent champion of NATO and have worked diligently to increase membership in the alliance. I have also been active in improving our public diplomacy in Eastern Europe through expansion of the Visa Waiver Program at the request of our friends and allies in Central and Eastern Europe. In my remaining time in the Senate, I will continue to work to strengthen the Visa Waiver Program which has improved our image in the world and strengthened our borders through shared best-practices and enhanced intelligence sharing with our partners and allies abroad.
My passion for foreign relations stems in large part from my upbringing as the grandson of Southeast European immigrants. As an undergraduate at Ohio University, my first research paper examined how the United States sold out Central and Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia to the Soviets at the Yalta and Tehran conferences in 1943 and 1945. These states would become the “Captive Nations” suffering under the specter of Soviet domination, brutality, and oppression for nearly 50 years.
As a public official in Ohio, I remained a strong supporter of the Captive Nations. During my tenure as Mayor of Cleveland, I joined my brothers and sisters in the Eastern European Diaspora to celebrate the independence days of the Captive Nations at City Hall. We flew their flags, sang their songs, and prayed that one day the people in those countries would know freedom.
We saw the Berlin Wall fall and the Iron Curtain torn in half thanks large in part to the leadership of Pope John Paul II, President Reagan, and President George H.W. Bush. But even with the end of the Cold War, I remain deeply concerned that darker forces in Russia are reemerging as a threat to democracy, human rights, and religious freedom – not just for the Russian people but for the citizens of the newly freed Captive Nations. This concern in 1998 during my tenure as Governor of Ohio and Chair of the National Governor’s Association prompted me to pursue an all-50 state resolution supporting NATO membership for the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.
When I think about the importance of NATO and our commitment to the Captive Nations, I am inspired by President George W. Bush’s speech on NATO expansion in Warsaw on June 15, 2001. President Bush stated: “We should not calculate how little we can get away with, but how much we can do to advance the cause of freedom.”
I worked diligently from my first day as a member of the Senate in 1999 to extend NATO membership to my brothers and sisters in the former Captive Nations. I knew NATO membership would provide these fledgling democracies safe harbor from the possible threat of new Russian expansionism. But I also knew the process of NATO expansion would enhance much more than security in Europe. As I noted in a speech on the Senate floor on May 21, 2002, “While NATO is a collective security organization, formed to defend freedom and democracy in Europe, we cannot forget that common values form the foundation of the alliance.” Democracy, the rule of law, minority rights—these are among the values that form the hallmark of the NATO alliance.
Mr. President, one of my proudest moments as a Senator was when I joined President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers at the NATO Summit in Prague on November 21, 2002, when NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson officially announced the decision to invite Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to become part of the Alliance. This was truly one of the most thrilling days of my tenure as a Senator.
Later that day, my wife Janet and I were happy to attend a dinner in honor of Czech President Vaclav Havel at the Prague Castle. Following dinner, at 1:30 a.m. Prague time, I placed a call to Cleveland to talk with my brothers and sisters at home with ties to these NATO aspirant countries. They had gathered in the Lithuanian Hall at Our Lady of Perpetual Help to celebrate that day’s historic events, and this was truly a capstone to years of effort.
An Uncertain Relationship with Russia
Mr. President, it is because of my long history and work with the Captive Nations that I continue to worry about the uncertainties of our future relationship with Russia. I have traveled to 19 countries during my 21 trips to the region as a Senator. Presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers in Eastern Europe have told me time and time again it is comforting for them to know their relationship with NATO and the United States serves as a vital hedge against the threat of a future potentially expansionist Russia.
Yet now there is much talk from this Administration about resetting the U.S. bilateral relationship with Russia. Moscow seeks to regain its global stature and be respected as a peer in the international community. President Obama’s May 2010 National Security Strategy states: “We seek to build a stable, substantive, multidimensional relationship with Russia, based on mutual interests. The United States has an interest in a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia that respects international norms.” I agree with the Administration. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach.
Mr. President, there are indeed key areas where the United States and Russia share common cause and concern:
1) Russia is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and will continue to be essential towards any effective multilateral pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear program;
2) Russia continues to have leverage on the North Korean regime and has stated a nuclear-free Korean peninsula is in the interest of both our nations;
3) We are partners on the International Space Station; and
4) Until the August 2008 invasion of Georgia, our government and U.S. industry were working hard on a nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia similar the one we entered into with India.
With the world economy as it is today, the worst thing we could do is break off communication and revert back to our Cold War positions. President Obama’s trip to Moscow last year and President Medvedev’s reciprocal trip to Washington in June were opportunities to further engage Russia and determine where we have a symbiotic relationship and what we can accomplish together for the good of the international community.
However Mr. President, I believe our reset policy with Russia should not establish a relationship with Moscow at the expense of our Captive Nation allies. We simply do not know how our relationship with Russia will transpire during the years to come. Will Russia fully embrace democratic government, free markets, and the rule of law? Or will Russia seek to reestablish its influence over the former Soviet Union, whose collapse then president and now Prime Minister Vladmir Putin described in 2005 as the “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century?
This brings us to the topic of the New START treaty, which the Senate may consider in the coming weeks.
The New START Treaty
Mr. President, America’s grand strategy approach towards Russia must be realistic, it must be agile, and as I have said it must take into account the interests of our NATO allies. I am deeply concerned the New START Treaty may once again undermine the confidence of our friends and allies in Central and Eastern Europe.
Let me be absolutely clear: I am not ideologically opposed to the Administration’s nonproliferation agenda. The President’s stated goal of a world without nuclear weapons is noble. But I believe the Senate’s consideration of the New START treaty must be considered through a wider lens that includes the Treaty’s implications for our friends and allies in the Captive Nations.
1) Spheres of Influence
First, I am concerned about the uncertainties surrounding a Russia that could revert back to a country seeking to expand its influence on the Baltic States and Eastern Europe. President Medvedev’s February 2010 National Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation—released two months before the conclusion of the New START Treaty in April—explicitly labels NATO expansion as a “national threat” to Russia’s existence and reaffirms Russia’s right to use nuclear weapons if the country’s existence is threatened. I am sure such statements—combined with Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia—send shivers down the spines of our brothers and sisters in Central and Eastern Europe, even if they do not say so publicly.
Mr. President, the concerns of our Captive Nation brothers and sisters regarding Russia are not abstract. They are rooted in blood and tears, and they are rooted in a history of abandonment. My hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, was once the city with the world’s second-largest population of Hungarians after Budapest. I remember vividly the stories my Hungarian brothers and sisters would tell about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Encouraged by the implicit promise of intervention from the United States and the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians protested against the People’s Republic of Hungary in support of economic reform and an end to political oppression. These protests spread throughout Hungary, and the government was overthrown. But Moscow sought to maintain its control over the Captive Nations, took advantage of America’s inaction on the rebellion, invaded Hungary, crushed the revolution, and established a new authoritarian government. Over 2,500 Hungarians were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees to the West. Hungary would suffer under the oppression of the Soviet Union for nearly another half century. And of course there was a similar episode in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring of 1968.
Mr. President, the former Captive Nations have accomplished so much as free-market democracies and members of the NATO Alliance. Our friends and allies must have absolute confidence negotiations towards the New START treaty did not include side agreements or informal understandings regarding any Russian sphere of influence in the Captive Nations. Moreover, I remain deeply concerned — even in the absence of such agreements or understandings — that the former Captive Nations may once again wonder, will the West abandon us yet again? Will agreement with Russia once again be placed above the interests and concerns of our allies? Will we forget what happened after Yalta and Tehran? We cannot let this happen again.
2) Conventional Forces
Second, the former Captive Nations are also closely watching Russia’s military activities. Last September Russia undertook “Operation West”, a military exercise involving 13,000 troops simulating an air, sea, and nuclear attack on Poland. These war games, which took place during the 70th Anniversary of Polish independence, were the largest Russian military exercises since the end of the Cold War. If you look at the Russian military’s recent activity one cannot help but understand our allies concern Moscow could be reverting to the past. I hope that President Obama will meet with leaders from the former Captive Nations this weekend during the NATO Summit in Lisbon. The President should provide these leaders public reassurance that the United States remains committed to Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty which states that an attack on any member of NATO shall be considered to be an attack on all.
One of the best ways to alleviate the anxiety about the Russian military amongst our Captive Nation allies is for the Administration to pursue negotiations with Russia towards its compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Mr. President, the Senate’s potential consideration of the New START treaty cannot be disconnected from Russia’s prior track record on treaty compliance. Russia decided in 2007 to suspend its compliance with the CFE Treaty—a treaty signed by 22 countries that placed balanced limits on the deployment of troops and conventional weapons in Europe. This unilateral decision by Moscow should serve as a reminder to my Senate colleagues about Moscow’s commitment to its international obligations. Russia’s compliance with the CFE Treaty is essential to sustained security and stability in Central and Eastern Europe.
3) Weaponization of Oil and Natural Gas
Third Mr. President, our friends in Central and Eastern Europe are worried about the uncertainties surrounding a Russia that appears at times to be reverting back to an authoritarian state seeking to weaponize its oil and natural gas resources as a means to expand its influence on Europe and the West. Russia has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas and has the eighth-largest oil reserves. Moscow turned off the tap to Europe in the recent past. They could do it again. We should also be concerned about Moscow using its control of oil and natural gas to pit members of NATO against each other.
4) Commitment to Human Rights
Finally Mr. President, I am deeply troubled that the Obama Administration has decoupled Russia’s human rights record from America’s bilateral relationship with Russia. The United States and Russia are both signatories of the 1975 Helsinki Declaration, which clearly states that “Participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”
Yet in recent years we have seen anything but a respect for human rights in Russia. Prime Minister Putin stated during a recent interview with the Kommersant newspaper that pro-democracy demonstrators in Russia assembling without prior permission “will be hit on the head with batons. That’s all there is to it.” The actions of the Russian government speak louder than words. We have seen protests cancelled, newspapers closed, activists detained and abused. Yet we have seen little effort by the Administration to engage in a sustained dialogue with Moscow on its human rights record and commitments under the Helsinki Declaration. As David Kramer of the German Marshall Fund of the United States notes in a Washington Post op-ed on September 20:
“The human rights situation in Russia is bad and likely to get more worse as [Russia’s] March 2012 presidential election nears. Those in power will do anything to stay in power… Enough already with U.S. expressions of “regret” about the deteriorating situation inside Russia—it’s time to call it like it is: Condemn what’s happening there and consider consequences for continued human rights abuses.”
I believe the Obama Administration’s inaction and reluctance to confront Russia on its human rights record sends a dangerous signal to Moscow that there are little or no consequences for bad behavior. At a minimum, such coddling of bad behavior by the West only serves to embolden Moscow as to our resolve to hold Russia to account on its international obligations—a distressing thought as we consider the New START Treaty here in the Senate.
Mr. President, I have fought all my life to secure freedom for my brothers and sisters in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Yugoslavia. Once they received their freedom I championed — and continue to champion — their membership in NATO and the European Union. I’ll be damned at this stage in my life to do anything that could jeopardize their security and economic prosperity. I’ve seen too many opportunities for the region slip away during my lifetime. I will not let it happen again.
Political expediency should never be an excuse to rush to judgment on public policy let alone our national security. Treaties supersede all laws and acts of Congress. The Senate’s advice and consent duties on treaties are among our most solemn Constitutional duties. I cannot in good conscience determine my support for the Treaty until the Administration assures me our “Reset Policy” with Russia is a policy that enhances rather than diminishes the national security of our friends and allies throughout Europe.
Moreover Mr. President, I must receive the strongest assurances this policy does not, once again, amount to the United States leaving our brothers and sisters in the Captive Nations alone against undue pressures from Russia.
I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.