When I was serving as a legislative director in the Senate in the late 1980s, a conservative, security-minded president, who happened to be a Republican, negotiated a nuclear arms reduction treaty with our primary Cold War enemy that strengthened the security of every American.
The Senate overwhelmingly concurred with that assessment when 95 senators voted to approve the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1988, and only five voted no. The INF Treaty led to the destruction of nearly 2,700 nuclear and conventional missiles with intermediate ranges within three years -- with, notably, the Soviet Union destroying more than twice as many as the United States.
In endorsing President Ronald Reagan's security priority so forcefully, the Senate continued an important American tradition dating back to George Washington and the Revolutionary War-era Congress -- parking partisan fervor at the cloakroom door when national security is at issue.
Make no mistake, the eight years of the Reagan presidency were a time of sharp partisan infighting in the halls of Congress. But both Democrats and Republicans understood the stakes and overwhelmingly stood by their president. That action, in turn, strengthened his hand in wrestling with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in what turned out to be the waning years of the totalitarian Soviet empire.
One of the senators supporting his Republican commander in chief was the Rocky Mountain Democrat that I served. He stood by another Republican president three years later when he joined 92 other senators from both parties (versus six who voted nay) in 1991 to approve the START I Treaty negotiated by President George H.W. Bush. Backing for the 2002 Moscow Treaty signed by President George W. Bush was unanimous, passing 95 to 0.
It was appropriate, then, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September approved the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty negotiated by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with a bipartisan vote of 14 to 4. Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Bob Corker of Tennessee joined 11 Democrats in voting yes.
The full Senate should take up and approve the treaty during the end-of-year session, now that the midterm elections have happened. That would ensure that the "lame duck" session is not lame at all, but in fact historic, patriotic and smart -- and a timely demonstration of how a divided government can still address real threats.
Here are several reasons why swiftly adopting this treaty will enhance the security of all Americans, and by extension, the world:
After the Foreign Relations Committee vote, Senator Lugar said: "This treaty is essential for our own security." He is joined in that view by our most senior military and diplomatic leaders in both parties, including those who have overseen our national security for three decades.
After 21 hearings, senators have before them an overwhelming case that the reductions made under New START would make us a more secure nation. And as I witnessed firsthand working in Congress during the height of the Cold War, they would be honoring a noble tradition that elevates national security over partisan politics, making America stronger still.
Kevin Knobloch is president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, firstname.lastname@example.org.