Realpolitik #5 – Stop-START

I said last time that Barack Obama would start pushing his foreign policy objectives over the next two years. In the last week it appears that this is coming to fruition, as the Democratic caucus is pushing for ratification of the New START Treaty. New START refreshes America’s commitment to nuclear arms reduction, with similarly substantial commitments from Russia. Obama signed the treaty last year but for one reason or another he hasn’t brought it up in Congress yet, probably because he’s been pushing other policies in the meantime.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations voted 14-4 in favour of ratifying New START; 3 of the 14 who voted for it were Republicans. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his lieutenant in the Committee and Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), are determined to block the path of the legislation through Congress. Or, to be more specific, to hold out on the legislation coming to the table until January 2011 when the Senators-elect come in and the Republicans increased the size of their filibuster. By then, the Dems will need 1 in 3 Republican Senators to vote for New START in order to get the legislation through.

Obama & Medvedev signing New START

An editorial from the New York Times excellently sums up just how ridiculous Kyl’s filibuster is:

So what are Mr. Kyl’s objections?

In a statement on Tuesday, he said there is not enough time to act during the lame-duck session, given other unspecified items on the Senate agenda and the “complex and unresolved issues related to Start and modernization.”

What Mr. Kyl did not mention is that there have already been countless briefings and 21 Senate hearings on the treaty — sufficient for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the country’s top military leaders, six former secretaries of state (from both parties), five former secretaries of defense (from both parties) and seven former nuclear weapons commanders to endorse it.

Complexities or not, ratifying New START should be a high priority for the government. America’s relations with Russia have been somewhat tense in the last few years, and New START was a significant foreign policy coup for Obama. Furthermore, the treaty is in the best interests of America; nuclear arms reduction is a vital cog in the machinery of American national security, and as such Congress should move to get the legislation through with alacrity, as I imagine will happen anyway, after a fashion, when the 112th Congress sits in January.

I think the Dems need to move quickly and decisively to get New START through before the new Congress sits; the Republicans have shown a willingness to filibuster at all costs, and given the size of the filibuster and the respect Sen. McConnell receives from the Republican caucus, it is not inconceivable that the passage of this law will be akin to the healthcare bill. I would hope McCain and other more moderate Republicans would act responsibly and ensure that the exigencies of responsible government are prioritised over ruthless bipartisanship.

The Republican line of argument is riddled with holes; there is literally nothing else they are willing to put on the table that will actually result in a legislative solution before January. They continue banging the drum for the economy, and while this may seem logical, right now it isn’t; the Republicans are going to ensure that government spending is sharply curbed, which is completely opposed to Obama’s big-spending policies. Of course, with a single-seat filibuster as they have now, there’s no way they’ll risk bringing the economy to the table, for fear that the Dems could convince moderate Republicans to cross the floor and vote with them.

Obstructionist minorities are not uncommon in politics worldwide; here in Australia, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott could probably be characterised as an Aussie Mitch McConnell. One of the big differences between Australian and America, however, is the level of individualism afforded to elected representatives. In Australia, political in-fighting is ferocious but at the end of the day party dissent is nearly non-existent; everyone toes the party line while the factions conduct a silent battle for supremacy. In America, candidates are much freer to vote as they see fit; or more appropriately, to vote according to the preferences of their electorate. Two-year terms for House members means that politics is a constant campaign, and as such I can only hope that significant interest is dredged up in the community to push through New START’s ratification.


That’s enough for this week, have a good one guys and I’ll catch you all next week.


About Rage
Australian student with interests in music, film, literature, politics, pop culture and more.

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