Before this week was Afghanistan week, jobs summit week, and Tiger Woods week, it was arms control week. On Saturday, the existing 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires. The treaty matters because it limits the US and Russia to fewer than 6,000 strategic (long-range) nuclear warheads and 1,600 missiles and bombers that carry the bombs each - and because its far-reaching inspections and data exchanges give each country the ability to predict confidently the size and location of the other's nuclear forces.
Washington and Moscow have been negotiating since the spring toward on a new agreement to reduce - with verification -- the number of nuclear weapons that the Russians have.
Touchingly, although he opposes the treaty, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl has expressed great concern that, in the gap before the new agreement is ratified, the extensive verification measures that the US and Russia use to keep an eye on each other's arsenals will lapse and allow Russia to "break out."
Max Bergmann at the Wonk Room catches Kyl "making the amazing claim that only recently has verification gotten the attention it deserved all along.
In fact, the US and Russia have been developing measures to deal with this - what Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher called a "collar" agreement way back in September. GOP Senator Richard Lugar was concerned enough to move language to keep the verification measures in place through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
So, who are these wicked people who thought that it wasn't necessary to verify arms control agreements with Russia?Not the Obama Administration - Secretary Clinton last month said:
No, you have to go back to 2002, when the Secretary of Defense - I believe his name was Rumsfeld - appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said:
Verifiable mutual reductions through a new START treaty will help us build trust and avoid surprises.
We are working hard to ensure that the new agreement will continue to allow for inspections and other mechanisms that allow us to build confidence.
So let me get this straight. An overwhelming bipartisan consensus of military and national security officials and former Secretaries of State and Defense support a follow on START agreement as a key element of our national security -- to make sure that the Russian arsenal is safe and secure and that their weapons don't fall into the wrong hands. The US and Russia have 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons - a demonstration that we are willing to reduce ours also puts pressure on other nuclear states to follow suit - and penalize countries such as Iran and North Korea that fail to do so.
These critics operate from a flawed premise: that, absent such an agreement, our two countries would both try to break out of the constraints of this treaty and increase our deployed nuclear forces. Nothing could be further from the truth.
During the Cold War, the stated rationale for arms control was to constrain an arms race. But the idea of an arms race between the United States and Russia today is ludicrous. The relationship between our two countries today is such that U.S. determined--unilaterally--that deep reductions in our deployed nuclear forces are in the U.S. interest.
Jon Kyl says he doesn't support the treaty. So he disagrees, but wait -- he agrees with Barack Obama, Dmitry Medvedev, Dick Lugar, Hillary Clinton, George Shultz, Sam Nunn, and Ellen Tauscher that verification of Russia's nuclear weaponry is vital to US national security. And he disagrees with Don Rumsfeld.
People have criticized Kyl for politicizing a national security issue that enjoys such broad bipartisan support. But maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe he's just discovered the value of critiquing Rumsfeld.
Better late than never.