President Obama and Senator John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have done well to give new life to the U.S. congressional ratification process for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia — by negotiating intensively with a number of Republican Senators. That group had concerns about the modernisation of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the Russian deployment of short-range tactical nuclear weapons near NATO missile positions in central Europe, but many of them have now confirmed that they can consider supporting START when it is put to the Senate for consideration later this month. Ratification, which will need 67 of the 100 Senate votes, therefore seems more likely than it was a few weeks ago; at that time, the Senate Republican whip, John Kyl of Arizona, said he would oppose it, thereby intensifying his party's resistance to the treaty. Mr. Kerry, writing for the Boston Globe, has pointed out that the treaty will introduce a tight monitoring and verification system while the current agreement, which dates from 2002, has no such procedure; that there will be no impediment to any future U.S. missile defence strategy; and that without agreement on strategic arms reduction it will be almost impossible to start negotiations on the reduction of tactical nuclear weapons.
The attitude of several other Republican Senators, however, reveals obscurantism at its worst. Their opposition runs counter to the backing START has received from a string of former secretaries of state, defence secretaries, and senior military commanders. Secondly, it is NATO's own plan to station missiles in Poland that has aggravated tensions across Russia's western borders and has brought about the threat of a Russian deployment of tactical nuclear-capable missiles. As for ratification, Senator Jim DeMint says he is prepared to block it with a filibuster or other procedural devices, and Mr. Kyl has said his possible support for START would be conditional on the extension of the Bush administration's temporary tax reductions. Nevertheless, if the ratification bill fails, the consequences will reach far beyond any divisions among the Senate Republicans or between them and the rest of their party. The global tensions caused by huge nuclear arsenals will be exacerbated; the improvements in Moscow-Washington relations, which Mr. Obama has pursued, will be endangered; and the already diminished international standing of the U.S. will be damaged further. There can be few better illustrations than this of the dangers posed to the world by the partisan obstructionism of a handful of reactionary Republican politicians.