New START ratified, so what’s next for arms control?

New START ratified, so what’s next for arms control?

The Senate approved a resolution of ratification for New START on Wednesday afternoon by a 71-26 vote, signaling the Barack Obama administration’s first — and perhaps last — major arms control legislative victory for the foreseeable future.

"I want to commend the Senators from both parties who worked to achieve this positive outcome for our country," said Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher in a statement from her hospital bed, where she is recovering from cancer surgery. "The New START treaty is another step that will help move the United States and Russia toward a world of mutual assured stability. This treaty will enhance cooperation with Russia and reinforce the global nuclear nonproliferation regime."

Vice President Joseph Biden presided over the vote. Immediately following the vote, a group of supporters gathered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting room in the Capitol to cheer their success. In attendance were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma, Biden’s lead New START negotiator Brian McKeon, and committee leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN).

In the end, 13 Senate Republicans voted in favor for the treaty: Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Bob Bennett (R-UT), Scott Brown (R-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Thad Cochran (R-MS), Bob Corker (R-TN), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Judd Gregg (R-NH), George Voinovich (R-OH), Mike Johanns (R-NE), and Lugar.

All the other Senate Republicans voted no, except for Kit Bond (R-MO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Jim Bunning (R-KY), all of whom missed the vote and are retiring from the Senate.

Just before the vote, in the throes of impending defeat, the GOP leader on New START, Jon Kyl (R-AZ), decried the process used to complete the treaty and promised that the Senate would not be a hospitable environment for arms control treaties next year.

"We better come to an understanding, either we are going to be able to make some changes, or otherwise we might as well avoid the process altogether because it’s just a waste of time," Kyl said after several attempts to add "treaty killer" amendments to the agreement failed.

Kyl downplayed the impact of the treaty he had worked for months to change, saying that the whole exercise was lost in Cold War thinking and that the more pressing threats were from rogue states like North Korea and Iran.

"I suggest we move away from the distraction of an agreement like this and move toward a debate over some of the real challenges," Kyl said. He added that a positive result of the debate was that there won’t be any more treaties "for a while."

Kyl was not the only one to predict that the administration won’t be eager to engage in another protracted debate over an arms control treaty next year.

"Given that this was a less than overwhelming vote, I think the next Congress would be very skeptical," said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) in an interview…. And I think the new members who are freshly elected and have a fresh perspective, will be more focused on Iran than Russia."

Since last year, administration officials have been pledging that New START would be only the first in a long line of arms control items they hoped to move through Congress before the 2012 elections. Next up was to be the Congressional Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), then perhaps the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, followed by the successor to New START, which has not yet been negotiated.

Is that still the plan? Kerry said yes, but don’t hold your breath.

"I said months ago to the president that the test ban treaty in the current atmosphere is a very, very difficult process. A whole lot of educating has to go on," Kerry said after the New START vote. "I think it’s way too early to start to scope out what will or will not happen with the CTBT. We have a lot of prep work to do before we contemplate that."

Lugar said the idea that New START was the low hanging fruit that could be easily disposed of on the path to more arms control items was never right and that was abundantly clear now.

"My own counsel [from the beginning] was that you have no idea how difficult it’s going to be to gain verification of New START. This was not going to be simply ‘chapter one,’ conference by April 15th and then three months later you try something else," Lugar said. "I think they are believers now."

When that debate over CTBT eventually happens, Kyl could be joined in his opposition by several new GOP senators, and perhaps also Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), who the administration was trying to work with on New START up until the very last moment. McCain ultimately voted no.

"The New START Treaty was supposed to deal solely with strategic offensive weapons. It does not. It re-establishes an old and outdated linkage between nuclear arms and missile defense, which is no longer suited to the threats of today’s world," McCain said in a statement. "I remain concerned that the Treaty in its final form could still be used by Russia to limit the development, deployment, and improvement of U.S. missile defense. I will work tirelessly in the years ahead to ensure that this never happens."

The Cable asked Lugar what he thought about McCain’s final decision to vote against New START.

"Each one of us had to make up our own minds," Lugar said. "And as public figures, we’ll have to answer for what we did."