Speaking to the media this weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CBS’s Bob Schieffer that at NATO’s Lisbon Summit this weekend, many European states including Germany, Poland and the Baltic states had pressed the Administration on the ratification of New START.
During one of the summit’s many news conferences, President Obama also stated, “Unprompted, I have received overwhelming support from our allies here that Start — the New Start treaty — is a critical component to U.S. and European security.” However, Czech defense minister, Alexandr Vondra revealed that it was the other way round; in fact, the Administration had asked their Central and Eastern European allies to lobby for the Treaty. He stated: “Throughout the summit, there was intense lobbying by the administration to win support for the ratification process.”
This request must have come as quite a shock to the Czechs, who only a year-ago received a midnight phone call from the President to tell them they’d been dropped like a hot brick from the previous Administration’s missile defense plans. It also seems incongruous to the high-handed way in which this Administration has treated Central and Eastern Europe in general. First there was the reset with Russia that saw off the Third Site missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. Then there was the callous disregard for the official ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall—where Russia was better represented than the Americans. The White House didn’t even initially acknowledge the invitation from the Polish government to attend the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Nazi invasion of Poland—and scurried to send a low-ranking official once the snub became public. And Poland and several others still await acceptance in to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, despite massive support for the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a member of the NATO alliance, U.S. Senators have an obligation to consider the interests of its allies when making decisions on international security. However they should take the Administration’s new found enthusiasm for Central and Eastern Europe’s endorsement with a pinch of salt. Somewhat like Secretary Clinton’s recent invocation of Reaganism in support of New START, the Administration’s Damascene-like conversations appear more opportunistic than genuine.
The Administration’s desperation to push through New START in the lame duck session of Congress smacks of opportunism too. It has not released the negotiating record of the U.S.-Russian deliberations and there are real concerns that the Treaty will limit the U.S.’s options on missile defense (and thereby NATO’s options too). When the new Senate reconstitutes in January there will be plenty of time for the Foreign Relations Committee to reconsider the matter and investigate exactly whether the Treaty genuinely does serve U.S. and allied interests. It is worth waiting these few short weeks for the newly-elected Senate to execute its constitutionally-mandated duty to genuinely offer its advice and consent on such an important issue—and with the full facts before it.