START II: A Necessary, Easy Success that Nearly Failed
Previously published on Jan 6, 2011
Whether or not all the accomplishments of the Lame-Duck 111th Congress are positive can be debated, but it is certain much more was accomplished than most would have predicted. One success of our National leaders was the START II treaty. With a Democratic President facing an extraordinarily polarized Legislative Branch, it looked as though key Republicans would sink a deal that would have lead to the passage of the improved START II treaty, plus additional funding for the modernizing of the US nuclear arsenal. Fortunately, cooperation on other issues cleared the way for passage.
In a world increasingly threatened by nuclear proliferation, as well as stateless and state sponsored terrorism, the last thing the International Community needs to worry about is the two nations with by far the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials failing to cooperate. Not only does the next generation START treaty modernize our nuclear arsenal, shrink the overall number of warheads, thus diminishing the threat of war and the cost of maintaining nuclear arsenals, while allowing us to trust Russia with verifications in place, it helps support strengthening ties between the former Cold War enemies, now allies.
One of the Obama Administration's most successful foreign policy initiatives to date has been to restart the chilled US-Russian relationship, an accomplishment not so trivial. In fact, the Obama Administration has been able to open Russian territory to US convoys supporting military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, Russia may well be integrated in the NATO Ballistic Missile Defense Shield. Previously, the exclusion of Russia from the system created tensions, because the Russian government saw the Defense Shield as a deterrent primarily deployed against their Country. In other words, Obama is succeeding in making Russia a trustworthy ally supporting our interests versus an enemy the world must cooperate with.
Moreover, the START II treaty's success goes beyond building on our essential partnership with Russia. Cold War nuclear threats, most notably the bilateral arms exchange between the US and Russia, as well as flashpoints like proxy wars, have pretty much disappeared. The treaty may be aimed at maintaining nuclear stability between the West and Russia, but it is also a means to ensure the International Community can better cope with nuclear threats associated with North Korea, globalized terrorist groups, and Iran. The largely symbolic START II treaty, therefore, serves to garner Russian support so we can address more credible threats from elsewhere in the world.