Obama invokes Reagan to push START nuclear arms treaty with Russia

Most national security experts and former arms control officials of both parties favor the START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia. But some Republicans are opposed, and it takes 67 votes.

By , Staff Writer

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    U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) at Prague Castle in Prague April 8, 2010. The treaty needs 67 votes in the US Senate to be ratified.
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President Obama is invoking his inner Ronald Reagan to push for a new arms control treaty with Russia.

Will it work? Possibly, but it’s an uphill sled.

On his side, Obama has the Pentagon, a wide range of national security experts from past administrations (Republican and Democrat), and both former presidents Bush. All have lined up behind what’s called “New START” (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty).

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“Ratifying a treaty like START isn’t about winning a victory for an administration or a political party,” Obama said in his radio/Internet address Saturday. “It’s about the safety and security of the United States of America.”

“That’s why this treaty is supported by both Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush,” he said. “That’s why it’s supported by every living Republican Secretary of State, our NATO allies, and the leadership of the United States military…. And that’s why every President since Ronald Reagan has pursued a treaty like START, and every one that has been reviewed by the Senate has passed with strong bipartisan support.”

There is some urgency to the issue. US weapons inspections ended a year ago when the 1991 arms control treaty with Russia expired. It’s Reagan’s signature arms control phrase “trust, but verify” (or “doveryai, no proveryai” as the Great Communicator sometimes tried to put it) that Obama is invoking here.

Republicans aren’t exactly in a “just say no” mood on the issue. But they are grumbling that the administration is trying to cram too much into the lame duck session of Congress. Some argue that the treaty would dangerously limit US ability to develop missile defenses.

The treaty, signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, would require each country to reduce its arsenal of strategic nuclear warheads from the current ceiling of 2,200 down to 1,550 on 700 strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched missiles over the next seven years. It also establishes a system for monitoring and verification.

Having dispatched with immigration (defeating the DREAM Act) and allowing gays in the military (repealing don’t ask, don’t tell) on Saturday, the Senate now is clear to take up START. Whether or not it will remains unclear. It takes 67 votes to ratify a treaty.

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