Because THESE are not your grand-fathers Republicans. These are a bunch of incompetents who siezed power in the mid 90's and want only to be re-elected.
Fear vs. Reason in the Arms Control DebateThere are six living secretaries of state from Republican administrations, and every one of them — from Henry Kissinger through Condoleezza Rice — endorses the New Start arms control treaty with Russia. Yet, as of this writing, the treaty is far from assured of support from even the one in four Republican senators needed for ratification.
Why the divergence between the Republican Party’s foreign policy brain trust and its legislators? Hoping to find out, I spent part of the past weekend watching C-Span, notably the impassioned utterances of Jon Kyl of Arizona, the leading treaty opponent. On Sunday, there was a stretch of action that may highlight some differences between the Kyls and Kissingers of the world.
Except - that only the US has ever dropped "the bomb (see Hiroshima, Nagasoki, 1945)."
Kyl was complaining that the treaty deals only with strategic nuclear weapons (on long-range bombers, submarines or intercontinental missiles) and not with tactical nukes (the typically lower-yield, shorter-range warheads used to aid conventional forces in battle). One reason this is troubling, according to Kyl, is that Russia is so trigger-happy; whereas America views its nukes as a deterrent, he said, “to the Russians, tactical nuclear weapons are a battlefield weapon, just like artillery.”
Now, if Russia really did see tactical nuclear weapons as “just like artillery,” then sometime during the 1980s Afghanistan would have become a 250,000-square-mile expanse of warm glass. This is one difference between a Kyl and a Kissinger: Kissinger generally stayed calm and rational when assessing an adversary.
Anyway, Kyl proceeded from this semi-hysterical premise to say that, because our strategic nuclear arsenal deters Russia’s use of tactical nukes, the New Start treaty should scare us. “It clearly would be to our detriment if we reduce our strategic offensive weapons down to the point that these tactical nuclear weapons could create an imbalance of power.”
Hold on. Under New Start, America, like Russia, could deploy 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads, each of which is way, way more powerful than the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima. The way deterrence works is that if Russia fears that even a few of these warheads could find their targets — vaporizing, say, Moscow, St. Petersburg and a couple of lesser cities — then it won’t initiate the use of nuclear weapons. Kyl’s apparent fear that Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal could somehow neutralize our entire deterrent force is ludicrous — another triumph of fear over cool reason.
I could go on, listing Kyl’s arcane anxieties about the menace of a resurgent Russian Bear and subjecting them to the kind of logic that a Kissinger or Rice would deploy. But to keep talking about Russia would be to keep the conversation where Kyl wants it and so distract us from a basic fact that Kissinger and Rice appreciate: Fundamentally, this treaty isn’t about the threat posed by Russia’s military.
Here are some of the treaty’s key virtues: It would increase our confidence that Russian nukes aren’t going stray and winding up in terrorists’ hands (by re-establishing inspections that lapsed with the expiration of the first Start treaty); it would strengthen a partnership with Russia that could help keep Iran nuke-free and help contain the North Korean threat; it would show non-nuclear nations that the great powers are making a good faith effort to reduce their stockpiles, thus rendering these nations more amenable to a much-needed tightening of the world’s nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Maybe it would be an oversimplification to say that, decades after the Berlin Wall fell, Kyl is mired in a cold war mindset. Not all of his fears are about Russia. On Saturday his big concern was that the treaty might somehow keep us from building a missile defense system that could bat down projectiles coming from Iran or North Korea.
Yet even here, while evincing a post-Berlin-Wall perspective, he seems stuck in pre-9/11 mode, unaware that the most pressing threats to America aren’t from nation-states.
Even if you think that a North Korea or Iran might someday, in the distant future, possess both the capacity and the craziness to launch a suicidal attack on us, there is a much more immediate threat: that North Korea, desperate for cash, would sell nukes to terrorists who could sneak them into the United States and detonate them; or that some Russian general might cut such a deal with a terrorist. Both of these prospects will loom less large if New Start is ratified.
By the way, the idea that the treaty itself prevents us from building a missile defense system is so groundless that even Kyl isn’t quite embracing it. His real fear, he says, is that a vague reference to missile defense in the (non-binding) preamble will be seized on, however wrongly, by the Russians, who will use it to cause trouble down the road. And why deal with threats that actually exist when you can spend your time obsessing over things Russia might do down the road?