Daniel W. Drezner

Republican senators are STARTing to feel the heat

Republican senators are STARTing to feel the heat

Hmmm…. this is interesting:

Nations on the front lines of the old Cold War divide made clear here Saturday that they want the Senate to ratify the new U.S.-Russia nuclear treaty, and said that Republican concerns about their well-being were misplaced.

In an unannounced group appearance at the end of an administration background briefing on Afghanistan, six European foreign ministers took the stage with a message for Congress.

"Don’t stop START before it’s started," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nickolay Mladenov said.

Conservative Republican senators have said the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, signed early last year, needs more work and have rejected the administration’s hopes of bringing it to a vote in the lame duck session before the end of the year.

The ministers insisted that Obama administration officials, some of whom stood at the back of the room as they spoke, did not put them up to the appeal. All are here participating in the NATO summit.

"I’m the one who initiated this initiative," Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said. The idea, she said, was to "at least make the Republican Party [aware] of how important this is."

In addition to being her country’s foreign minister, Espersen said with some indignation, "I’m also the chairman of the Conservative Party of Denmark. Nobody can ever accuse me of being soft on security."

"We’re all conservatives," Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi added.

So is this:

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski had endorsed the treaty Friday, saying a failure to ratify it this year "will embolden those in Moscow who would rather have the West as an enemy than as a partner – and who thus would like to see the tenuous progress made in recent months to be undone."

And this:

Two major Jewish groups came out Friday in favor of ratification of the START treaty.

Both the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) cited the importance of passage of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction treaty in order to maintain American-Russian cooperation in pressuring Iran to curtail its nuclear program.

"We are deeply concerned that failure to ratify the New START treaty will have national security consequences far beyond the subject of the treaty itself," the ADL said in a letter sent to every senator Friday.

"The U.S. diplomatic strategy to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons requires a U.S.-Russia relationship of trust and cooperation," ADL continued. "The severe damage that could be inflicted on that relationship by failing to ratify the treaty would inevitably hamper effective American international leadership to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program."

The National Jewish Democratic Council, meantime, issued a statement Friday urging citizens to call Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and tell "him to put politics aside, and join the broad bipartisan consensus behind START."

Will this have any effect on START’s ratification chances?  Earlier this week Fred Kaplan observed that passage might still be a possibility:

If Kyl thinks that the treaty will get ratified anyway—or that, if it doesn’t get ratified, he will lose all the extra money for nuclear modernization—then maybe he’ll jump onboard. That way he could preserve his standing as a security hawk and, perhaps more important, an effective power broker.

Of course, he and his colleagues in the Republican leadership might think it’s more important to deny Obama any victory, to make him seem ineffective and thus erode his chances of re-election in 2012 (the GOP’s No. 1 priority, according to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell). If that’s what ends up happening, at least Obama will know the name of the game for the next two years—and, maybe, figure out how to play it.

The first couple of stories suggest that maybe, just maybe, the GOP would pay a price for out-and-out obstructionism — and let’s be blunt, that’s really what Kyl’s behavior is at this point.  Sure, pissing off France or South Korea comes with few downsides for U.S. Senators, but Poland and other former Warsaw Pact countries are another kettle of fish.  If neoconservatives Jews Eastern Europeans powerful interest groups within the GOP have bigger fish to fry than relations with Russia, then they will make life somewhat more difficult to Republican Senators.   Just how much more difficult remains to be seen, however.