Cheers for New START
JAYANTHA DHANAPALA (IDN)
modest bilateral nuclear disarmament treaty, concluded at an accelerated
pace in the first 15 months of the Obama Administration with the Russian
Federation, has now survived what departing Senator Arlen Specter calls
the political "cannibalism" of his Republican Party, to be
ratified in the U.S. Senate by 71 votes to 26.
It climaxes a spurt of Congressional action in a lame duck session which
saw Obama achieve the extension of the Bush II tax cuts, albeit with the
rich benefiting too, and repealing the "Don't ask; Don't tell"
Clinton policy regarding gays in the U.S. Military, inter alia.
Before we rush to acclaim this treaty ratification as an Obama victory
for policy persistence or a tribute to bipartisanship, some perspective
is necessary so that we realize that this is not an unqualified success
for nuclear disarmament -- without which there can be no nuclear
The renegade Cold Warriors -- Schultz, Kissinger, Nunn and Perry -- with
their 2007 and 2008 Wall Street Journal op-eds call for nuclear weapon
abolition and an end to the faith-based nuclear deterrence fiction,
influenced the U.S. Presidential campaign of 2008 and reignited the
civil society movement for Global Zero.
Obama's community organizer experience had taught him to temper idealism
with pragmatism in seeking a consensus. And so, the soaring rhetoric of
a nuclear weapon free world vision was grounded in the caveats he wrote
into his Prague speech of April 2009 ("perhaps not in my
To those who only saw the vision, the New START with Russia, the
Washington Nuclear Security Summit, the Nuclear Posture Review and the
success of the 2010 NPT Review Conference were milestones on an
irreversible road to zero nukes.
Those sceptics who saw through it all as "nuclearism", or
make-believe nuclear disarmament, were not surprised when at the first
salvo of pro-nuclear establishment protests, promoted of course by
special-interest groups, Obama wilted.
First, he ensured that the weapons laboratories, which are central in
the nuclear weapons establishment, are funded beyond their wildest
dreams ($85 billion over ten years); then denied he was doing anything
but uphold the scientifically unproven and politically provocative
missile defence system of past Republican administrations; and granted
other Republican requests despite their negative impact on the deficit.
In Europe, the NATO Strategic Concept Review ended predictably with a
"business as usual" document despite European allies wanting
U.S. nuclear weapons removed from their soil.
When New START was signed on April 8, 2010, it was rightly hailed as a
return to traditional nuclear arms control via verifiable and
irreversible treaty arrangements between the two nuclear giants who
owned an estimated 95% of the nuclear weapons in the world. This was
also part of the overdue "resetting" of U.S.-Russian
relations, which had been allowed to slide under both Clinton and Bush
II, and almost resulted in a clash over Georgia.
An estimated 30% reduction of permitted deployed strategic nuclear
weapons over a seven-year period is envisaged out of the total of 22,400
nuclear warheads in the arsenals of nine nuclear weapon-armed countries,
7500 of them on operational status.
Apart from visceral U.S. Republican allergy to arms reductions, specific
attention was focused by opponents of New START on its verifiability --
a rich irony when the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT)
had no verification and the 1991 START I arrangements were allowed to
lapse in December 2009 -- and on the innocuous preambular language on
missile defence leading to wild accusations of secret agreements to
abandon what is in fact a wasteful and ineffective military programme
with illusory defence.
Surprisingly, the Obama Administration was in a defensive mode both
before and after the mid-term Congressional elections with its swing
towards the GOP. A readiness to compromise on fundamental principles
disappointing the hopes raised by the Prague speech morphed from
flexibility to ensure the right numbers to downright horse-trading as
some Republican Senators upped the ante at the behest of lobbyists.
Just as Obama's liberal supporters were disappointed over what finally
came out as health reform, similar disappointment is now being voiced
over the concessions made to secure the ratification.
First came the promise to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent under
the euphemism of "modernization" which escalated into typical
pork-barrel politicking to satisfy the insatiable appetite of Senators
like Kyl of Arizona who eventually reneged on his promises.
Then came the groveling assurances on missile defence painting the Obama
Administration into a corner that Clinton cleverly stayed away from.
Supporters of the Prompt Global Strike weapon system also joined the
fray and soon the disarmament community began to portray New START as
"an arms affirmation treaty" rather than the beginning of a
process towards a nuclear weapon-free world.
The process leading to the U.S. Senate ratification has, once again,
proved that U.S. politics is driven by special interests groups leaving
the interests of the people in the lurch. Well before Wikileaks websites
monitoring how money lubricates the system, disclosed legally available
For example, one report said that military contractors, with stakes in
missile defence, spent an estimated $59 million lobbying the Senate
since New START was signed. Another report revealed that between April 8
and September 22, 2010, Raytheon spent $22,750,000 on lobbying; Lockheed
Martin $13,905,000; Boeing $9,430,000; and Northrop Grumman $9,080,000.
Amidst this sordid spectacle was the shining example of Senator Lugar
and his other Republican colleagues whose principled vote for
ratification was never in doubt.
The U.S. Senate ratification of New START has thus exposed the strength
of the opposition by the cold warriors and the military-industrial
complex to nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation. They exist
and work assiduously in many countries and represent, collectively, what
President Eisenhower, in the wisdom distilled from an illustrious
military career followed by 8 years as President of the USA during the
Cold War, warned us about in his farewell speech in January 1961:
"In the councils of government, we must guard against the
acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the
military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of
misplaced power exists and will persist.
"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our
liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted.
Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing
of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our
peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper
Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is an old practice in
politics as T.S.Eliot said in 'Murder in the Cathedral':
"The last temptation is the greatest treason;
To do the right deed for the wrong reason."
Many believed Obama when he declared -- "clearly and with
conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a
world without nuclear weapons." adding "(we) must ignore the
voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist,
'Yes, we can.'"
He can still redeem himself by continuing to seek the elimination of
nuclear weapons despite the odds he faces.
| Analysis That Matters]
Dhanapala is a former UN Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament
Affairs and a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka.