Yesterday, the Senate voted 66–32 to begin debate on the New START agreement with Russia. Only a simple majority (51) was required, but vote counters can use yesterday’s roll call as a benchmark for final ratification, which will need 67 votes to pass. With the seating of Senator Mark Kirk (R–IL), the White House needs nine Republicans to join the Senate’s 58 Democrats. They got those nine yesterday, including Senators Bob Bennett (UT), Scott Brown (MA), Susan Collins (ME), Lindsey Graham (SC), Dick Lugar (IN), John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Olympia Snowe (ME), and George Voinovich (OH).
But of those, according to The Hill, only Lugar, Collins, and Snowe have fully backed ratification. And at least two of those nine went on record in favor of letting the next Congress be the treaty’s judge. Early yesterday, McCain took to former Senator Fred Thompson’s nationally syndicated radio show where he called the treaty “a good idea” but also said he has “serious concerns about the missile defense part of it” and wanted to vote on it next year. Meanwhile, Bennett attended a press conference organized by Senator Jon Kyl (R–AZ) where he told reporters: “I would hope that we could reach accord, and I would hope that it would be next year.”
Kyl’s press conference was a major blow to the White House as a slew of potential yes votes lined up to announce they would not vote for the treaty this year, including the newly sworn-in Senator Kirk and Senators Lamar Alexander (R–TN), Kit Bond (R–MO), Saxby Chambliss (R–GA), Orrin Hatch (R–UT), Mike Johanns (R–NE), George Lemieux (R–FL), and John Thune (R–SD).
Senator John Kerry (D–MA) staged a counter press conference just minutes after Kyl closed his where he insisted that allowing the next Congress to ratify the treaty would be “a recipe for endless delay on a matter of enormous national security significance.” Kerry added: “Nine hundred questions were filed and asked and answered by the Administration.”
Kerry may be right that hundreds of questions have been asked and answered. But many questions also remain unanswered. Let’s start with just two: Where are the negotiating documents, and when will we be allowed to see them? These documents are crucial to resolving key ambiguities about the treaty, one of the biggest being the treaty’s effect on our nation’s right to implement new missile defense systems.
The Administration has claimed from the beginning that New START will have no impact on our nation’s ability to defend itself against ballistic missile attack. Then why did Russians insist on inserting language into the treaty’s preamble limiting our missile defenses? The American people have a right to know. Conservatives won a major victory Tuesday when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that preambles to treaties are amendable. If, as the White House and Senator Kerry claim, the missile defense language in the preamble has no impact on our missile defense rights, then they should also have no objection to removing it from the treaty entirely. When that vote occurs, we will see which Senators truly support missile defense and which do not.
The proper exercise of diplomacy by the United States does not threaten our sovereignty. The Founding Fathers understood the value of diplomacy. They drafted the Constitution, in part, because they wanted the United States to be able to negotiate treaties with other nations. But they also understood that American foreign policy must ultimately be controlled by the American people.
That is why, for instance, the United States Senate must approve treaties that are negotiated by the President. That is how our diplomatic process works. But today, American sovereignty is threatened by the many treaties that seek to take power away from the nations that negotiate them. The solution is not to reject treaties or diplomacy: it is to return to the vision of the Founders, and to their belief that the American people have an inherent right of self-government, through their elected representatives, that cannot be extinguished by any treaty.
President Obama’s New START creates an implementing body, called the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), and gives it broad powers to promote the objectives of the treaty. These powers could include imposing additional restrictions on the U.S. missile defense program. This is an unacceptable cession of our national sovereignty. President Ronald Reagan walked away from Mikhail Gorbachev’s offer to eliminate nuclear weapons because he asked us to give up our missile defenses in return. No true conservative could support this treaty as it stands.