When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 14-4 to approve the New START nuclear-arms-control treaty that was signed in April by the United States and Russia, it should have been a big story.
Certainly, it was significant, because it shows that cooler heads continue to prevail in this most dangerous of all geopolitical arenas. But it also marked an important anomaly in modern American politics, as almost half of the Republican members of the committee voted with the Democrats in favor of the treaty. These days, most Republicans are so juiced about the apparent success of their contrarian posture that they would probably blurt out "No!" if a Democrat asked them if they wipe their butts after making No. 2.
New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) would limit each side to deploying 1,550 nuclear warheads or 700 launchers beginning seven years after the treaty is finally ratified. That may seem odd at first, but for quite a while, the nutbirds who were running our (and their) nuclear programs would try to skirt the wording of early treaties by placing 19 or so warheads atop a single delivery system, and when the counting commenced, they'd point at the monstrosity and say, "That's one." The new limits still account for more than twice as many warheads as missiles, but that's much better than it used to be.
The treaty will also institute a new inspection and monitoring program that replaces the one that lapsed last year, when the initial START Treaty of 1991 expired. After a nine-month (and counting) lapse, the new treaty would again put in place a system that allows for exchanging information and putting inspectors on the ground. It's a program that the United States and Russia need, and one that both sides justifiably pat themselves on the back for being mature enough to want.
It will also help the United States not look like a hypocrite when it waves its finger at North Korea and Iran.
We're coming up on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it turns out that the situation was even worse than just about anybody knew at the time. The cover story in the current (November 2010) issue of Military History is entitled "Worse Than We Knew" and states that "Kennedy and Khrushchev got lucky. Events were often far beyond their control."
Nevertheless, after it was over, both sides stepped back and asked, "What in the hell were we thinking?" In retrospect, it can be said that never again did the two sides come close to something so stupid and horrifying. After Cuba, the nuclear bluster subsided significantly.
This is not to say that the madness came to a halt. The people who were in charge of designing and building the nukes were still churning out bigger and better Armageddon machines as fast as they could. (For a stomach-turning look at the heights of lunacy on both sides of the arms race, I highly recommend the book Arsenals of Folly by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes.)
But with the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) and then START, reason began to filter in, and then, over time, it became the prevailing factor. The New START treaty has wide-ranging support across the political spectrum. Even Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) voted in favor of it, although his vote appeared to have certain porcine characteristics. (Corker's state is home to the Oak Ridge nuclear facility, where old warheads are decommissioned. The New START's call for a 30 percent reduction in the American arsenal could be a windfall for Oak Ridge. Unfortunately, Corker stepped in it when he called for $8 billion to upgrade Oak Ridge, even after the project's own contractor said that it would take between $1.4 billion and $3.5 billion to do the job.)
So who is against it? Mostly, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl (who is not on that committee), for reasons that seem to run counter to his proclaimed fiscal conservatism. Kyl has been railing against the treaty and, at the same time, asking for more than the $80 billion that the Obama administration has pledged to spend to upgrade America's nuclear arsenal (although many in the field believe it could be done for less than half that amount).
There must be something wrong with my ears, because I haven't heard one Tea Party member complain about that ridiculous figure from Kyl.
While John McCain tacked hard to the right during the primary, it seems reasonable to assume that he'll vote for the treaty when it comes before the entire Senate. (The vote will probably take place during the lame-duck period after the November elections.) It's funny how people who have actually been shot at tend to look at treaties in a different way.
Kyl, however, continues to thumb his nose. Kyl represents Arizona like the Osmond Brothers used to represent soul music: It's not exactly a criminal act, but in the end, it appeals only to a select few who share the same appearance and narrow outlook.
Sen. Kyl, just this once, allow statesmanship to trump gamesmanship.