New START an Obama priority

In the US, the Democrats are making a last-ditch effort to push a key arms deal through Congress before the end of the year.

The START Treaty seemed to be on the top of the agenda when US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dimity Medvedev met in Japan while attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference.

Both presidents signed the treaty in April 2010; however the legislatures of both nations have yet to ratify the agreement.

Obama and Medvedev have both called the ratification of the treaty a top priority.

Vice-president Joe Biden has warned that failure to ratify the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia will endanger America's national security.

His warning follows statements by Republicans that the deal should not be signed this year, while some are saying it should be dropped altogether.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress said the ratification of the New START Treaty falls to the Republicans.

The Republicans basically have to decide whether to give Obama a victory,” Korb said.

Congressional Republicans can either pass the treaty, or continue to peruse a deal, which may or may not go through. Many Republican leaders do favor the treaty, but with modifications and other deals.

It’s going to be difficult to do in the short time frame we have left in this legislative session because they have a whole bunch of other things to deal with,” he added.

Objections and modifications the Republicans are calling for are not serious objections, argued Korb. It’s all political.

They’re just trying to show that they’re not going to let Obama get any political credit, because they feel that if they completely undermine him, as Senator McConnell said, they can get the White House back,” Korb explained.

Many argue the agreement is no longer as important, because there is no longer a Cold War; the original START Treaty was relevant, it was critical at that time.

It is important and it should go through, but these people will pay no price because Americans think the Cold War’s over, they’re not paying attention anymore,” said Korb.

Now is the time to ratify the treaty in the US, explained Ivan Eland, a senior fellow at The Independent Institute. It is best to address ratification of the New START prior to the new Congress in January 2011, when a greater number of Republicans who oppose the treaty will have a say.

He has to get it through before the end of the year,” Eland said. “Basically it comes down to buying the Republicans off with more money for the new US nuclear complex.”

Many new incoming Republican congressional members, especially Tea Party supporters, are hardliners who oppose the START treaty and improved new US-Russia relations.

I think the Republicans who are in there [Congress] now are fairly reasonable. I would predict that it will probably pass very narrowly by the end of the year, because it is a priority. If they don’t get it by the end of the year then I think it’s probably in trouble,” he added.

The treaty is very valuable for the bi-lateral relationship, explained Eland. It builds on the new way forward for the two nations, prevents the possibility of nuclear war and even helps address the deficit.

If Congress is unable to push the treaty ratification through before the end of the year, it could be some time before it is approved, perhaps two years from now.

This is a big priority for Obama,” Eland said. “They need a lot of votes but I think they can probably get them if they work the deal.”

The treaty is needed, both for symbolism and practicality, in the state of relations between the US and Russia.

It’ll be very good if this treaty passes,” said Eland.

­Non-ratification of the START treaty will be a blow to the US credibility, believes director of Carnegie Moscow Center, Dmitry Trenin.

”It is really a shame that a major treaty, that is certainly in the national interests of the United States, as it is in the national interests of Russia, has gotten into [the] political crossfire in Washington, DC,” he said. “This is undermining President Obama, but this is also a blow against the credibility of the United States of America, and I am really sorry that this is what has happened at this point.”