Among the many dubious legacies of “moderate” Republicans is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, also known as “New START,” which the Senate ratified in December 2010, just after the electorate had delivered a resounding condemnation of the Obama administration’s left-wing agenda. New START was the centerpiece of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ill-conceived and ill-fated “reset” with Russia.
As conservatives, such as former UN Ambassador John Bolton, noted at the time, New START amounted to a policy of unilateral disarmament by the United States. It was a disastrous and unwarranted step, taken in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Georgia, and was done partly because of Obama’s conviction that U.S. power is itself the central problem of international affairs, and partly because he had “moderate” Republican help.
Sen. Dick Lugar, then representing Indiana but barely living there, was a staunch advocate of “New START,” and the mainstream media praised his statesmanship as a way of attacking his fellow Republicans. Ronald Brownstein of National Journal, for instance, lauded Lugar as an exemplar of “traditional internationalism inside the GOP,” while disdaining those Republicans who wanted “unilateral American freedom of action.”
So before the Tea Party hobbits arrived on Capitol Hill, inspired by the (well-informed and prescient) Sarah Palin, Lugar delivered the necessary votes to ratify New START. Relations with Russia have been a disaster since then, with Vladimir Putin backing the genocidal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, continuing to support the Iranian nuclear program, and now annexing the Crimea and threatening the stability of Eastern Europe.
Instead of sending weapons to shore up the defenses of the beleaguered Ukraine–who sent troops to fight with us in Iraq, by the way–the Obama administration is sending rations, i.e. Spam. Unless the luncheon meat has Kryptonite-like qualities on Russian troops and Russian-supporting paramilitaries, it is unlikely to have much of an effect. Sadly, few Republicans are offering anything more substantive as a response to the Ukraine crisis.
But there is one very simple way to begin a response: cancel New START. Doing so would not require sending U.S. troops overseas, or involving ourselves in international affairs we clearly have no patience to unravel. It simply means undoing something we ought never to have done in the first place–and sending a strong signal to Putin that his actions have strategic costs that will actually set back Russia’s overall geopolitical position.
Treaties are not set in stone, after all. After all, Russia itself has violated the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 by violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity. In 2012, it withdrew unilaterally from the Nunn-Lugar arrangement to monitor nuclear weapons in the former Soviet republics. Obama ought to have registered that signal of Russia’s aggressive intent. It is well past time for the U.S. to signal back that we will defend our interests.
President Obama would, no doubt, resist any attempt to unravel what he considers (tellingly) part of his foreign policy legacy. But Congress can put pressure on him to withdraw from New START–and, in addition, pressure Democrats to indicate where they stand, with a view to both 2014 and 2016. If Putin is certain that another weak administration will replace Obama’s, he will press forward. If he is unsure, he is likelier to relent.