Sen. John Kerry, chairman, SFRC listens to New START testimony, 5/18/10. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist Chad J. McNeeley/Released).

Well, folks, it’s that time of year again: the Silly Season is drawing to a close, and the US Senate will be back in session next week. When it came to arms control issues, “Silly Season” was celebrated on the op-ed pages; during the time between the last Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on New START and this week, there were literally dozens of “ratify New START/don’t ratify New START” op-eds published, ranging from extremely well-informed to dazed and confused. Whether you’re a national security pundit or an arms control geek, you’ll have something substantial to discuss pretty soon, because New START will finally be up for a committee vote on September 16. There’s actually some tasty, wonky goodness available ahead of the vote; Josh Rogin of The Cable over at Foreign Policy has gotten hold of the discussion draft of the New START Resolution of Advice and Consent to Ratification, which was circulated by Senator Kerry (D-MA) to SFRC members on September 3.

Procedural Stuff: The Resolution of Ratification

Back at the end of March 2010, John Isaacs published a good piece on the Senate’s role in New START ratification. Even though some time has elapsed, most of his commentary is still relevant, and is a good, general guide to how things might unfold in the ratification process. Isaacs also gives a solid, brief description of the parliamentary procedure involved, for anyone not familiar with it. Specifically:

[The Senate Foreign Relations Committee] will propose what’s called a “resolution of ratification”–the document that the Senate actually votes on. The committee can add to the resolution of ratification conditions, reservations, understandings, and declarations on subjects related to the treaty, such as missile defense, nuclear weapons spending, and future arms control negotiations with the Russians. The Armed Services and Intelligence Committees might also decide to hold hearings on START follow-on, but only the Foreign Relations Committee will vote on approving the resolution of ratification.

Now, what Kerry has circulated is a “discussion draft”; according to Rogin’s piece, Kerry’s office has stressed that the discussion draft is just that: a starting point for discussion. In fact, the letter that accompanied the draft says:

[T]his draft, which is based on the Senate resolutions of advice and consent to ratification of the START I and, in particular, START II Treaties, should give members a sense of how issues are considered in such a resolution and, to a degree, how specific issues that have been raised regarding the New START Treaty might be addressed. Chairman Kerry indicated in his letter of [September 3] that all members of the Committee are invited to convey their suggestions or proposals to the Committee staff directors, or to Tom Moore and me. We understand that this process is under way, and we welcome more input. The deadline for submitting amendments to the draft resolution of advice and consent is Tuesday, September 14.

So, it’s pretty clear that this draft resolution is a starting point, and is not the final product on which the committee will vote.

Politics, Paranoia, and Posturing

Rogin has also found out that Senator Lugar will be submitting a substitute draft resolution on September 16, with some changes in language that he hopes will make the whole thing more palatable to the Republican New START skeptics on the committee, who (according to Rogin) are having problems with everything from missile defense to the language on tactical nuclear weapons in Kerry’s discussion draft. If you’ve been following the GOP take on New START from the beginning, none of this should surprise you. There’s absolutely nothing new here; I fully expect GOP Senators to complain about missile defense until the bitter end, and to even be paranoid about the involvement of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (see Jeffrey’s “Black Helicopters” post). In fact, according to Rogin, someone’s already mentioning it:

Some GOP offices are calling for more aggressive language, such as a pledge not to include missile defense as part of the agenda of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC) being set up between the United States and Russia to discuss details of treaty implementation.

If you read through Rogin’s piece, and the GSN Newswire write-up, the tone is that there’s potential drama and deep divisions on the committee. I disagree. There’s no reason to believe that there is much daylight (if any at all, at this point) between Kerry and Lugar on New START. Lugar’s goal right now is to get as many GOP votes as he can, and we already know that there are some fence-sitters, like Sen. Corker (R-TN). Not even Senator Kyl has said he’s going to vote “nay” in committee when the vote is up on the Senate floor. The only confirmed “nays” in committee, in fact, are Senators DeMint (R-SC) and Inhofe (R-OK). Lugar has said recently that he expects that a solid majority of the Republican Senators will eventually back the treaty, but that the big vote won’t happen until after the November midterm elections. In other words, expect a lot of GOP hand-wringing over all the usual issues for many months to come.

By the way, it’s worth pointing out that even though Lugar has been guiding things along on his side of the political fence, there has been some speculation that a lot of GOP Senators look to Sen. Kyl for guidance, since he’s an old hand at arms control as well (even though he isn’t on the SFRC). However, a recent comment by Kyl regarding verification makes me wonder if their faith in his ability to understand New START is, um, misplaced:

“I thought we were just going to continue doing business as usual” as the replacement treaty was debated, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said when a reporter noted the inspection cutoff.

I’ll be writing about verification at some point, and I’m sure the other Arms Control Wonk contributors will as well, but let’s just say that Kyl not knowing that we haven’t been able to inspect Russian strategic nuclear facilities since December 2009 does not inspire confidence.

The Discussion (Draft) Resolution

I’ve gone over the draft resolution, of course taking into account that it’s supposed to be a starting point and not the final word. I’ve given it a cursory comparison to the New START treaty text (please click here for all relevant treaty documents). As far as I can tell, there’s nothing controversial or contradictory there, as one would hope there wouldn’t be. I was initially wondering about the first part of Section 3, which says:

The advice and consent of the Senate to ratification of the New START Treaty is subject to the following understanding, which shall be included in the instrument of ratification:

(1) STRATEGIC RANGE NON-NUCLEAR WEAPON SYSTEMS.—It is the understanding of the United States that—

(A) The United States will not consider future, strategic range non-nuclear weapon systems that do not otherwise meet the definitions of this Treaty to be “new kinds of strategic offensive arms” subject to the New START Treaty.

This is an aspect of the treaty that apparently raised Russian eyebrows during the negotiating process, but was eventually resolved; please see pages 17-18 of Amy Woolf’s excellent analysis for more details. The text of the draft resolution doesn’t appear to contradict what was agreed upon during negotiations.

As always, I’d like to invite your comments and analysis as well. In terms of politics, I’d like to echo Jeffrey’s sentiment from a year ago: let’s hope everyone can stay mature and serious, and stay focused on the important issues. There’s no reason to delay ratification. Time to get it done.