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Robert Reich

The real reason Republicans don't want the new START treaty

What's behind GOP opposition to START?

By Guest blogger / December 24, 2010

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets people just off the Senate floor after the Senate ratified the START nuclear arms reduction treaty at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, December 22.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters


[Editor's note: This was written on December 21, before the Senate vote approving the new START treaty.]

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Has the President’s olive branch on extending the Bush tax breaks for the rich opened a new era in bi-partisanship? Doubtful.

Anyone who isn’t worried about loose nukes – nuclear warheads that can travel long distances, and could find their way into terrorist hands – should have his head examined. Russia and the U.S. still have thousands from the Cold War days. The old Start treaty began the job of reducing that number, with mutual inspections to verify both sides were following through. But it lapsed last year. So right now there’s nothing – not only no treaty to continue the process of de-nuking, but no inspection system to make sure Russia isn’t (and to assure Russia that the U.S. isn’t) re-nuking.

Fortunately, Russia and the U.S. have negotiated a New Start treaty that would cut the number of warheads down to about a third, and resume inspections.

But Senate Republicans are balking.

Let’s be clear: The choice isn’t between adopting a New Start treaty or just keeping the old one. The old one ran out a year ago. The choice is a New Start treaty or back to the old days when both sides could build more nukes under a cloud of secrecy.

It’s a no-brainer. But many Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, now say they won’t support New Start.

Why? Six months ago their excuse was the U.S. wasn’t doing enough to make sure our remaining stock of nuclear warheads would be up to par. Now that $84 billion has been allotted to upgrading our nuclear weapons, they can’t make that argument. A month ago they said they didn’t have enough time to consider the treaty. When it was pointed out to them there had been dozens of hearings and briefings, they said they needed more time to think about the inspections built into the treaty. Now they say they don’t like the language in the treaty’s preamble.

Here are the real reasons:

1. Deny Obama a victory. Mitch McConnell has said his number one priority is making sure Barack Obama is a one-term President. He’ll sacrifice the security of Americans in order to rob the President of anything that could be interpreted as a victory, including New Start.

Forget bi-partisanship. To Senate Republicans, it never existed and never will. They went along with the tax deal because it gave them and their supporters everything they wanted and more. They didn’t consider it a victory for Obama; they’re claiming it as a victory for themselves.

2. Stoke up defense spending. I don’t even think Senate Republican leaders mind loose nukes. Failure of New Start would give them an excuse to increase defense spending – the one area of the budget they want enlarged.