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December 02, 2010

Don't Start START Just Yet

Liberals are shrieking like six year old girls that Republican obstruction of this quickie-treaty is "bad faith" and verges on treason.

This NYT piece digests the arguments of the Republicans (James Baker III, Henry Kissinger) for the treaty, and the arguments of those (Ed Messe, Richard Perle) against it. Both sides claim the mantle of Reagan for their position.

I haven't read about this until now. I find myself agreeing pretty strongly with the Meese/Perle position.

[T]he administration is asking a lame-duck Senate, dominated by a party that was rebuked at the polls by the electorate, to vote for this major arms-control treaty, in contravention of the settled traditions of our country—a tactic Reagan surely would have deplored.

Never in U.S. history has a lame-duck Congress voted on a strategic nuclear arms-control treaty with the Soviet Union or Russia. That is why a group of 10 newly elected Republican senators sent a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding that they be allowed to perform their constitutionally mandated task of advice and consent on this treaty.

Right out of the gate, this is a major breach. There is no need to rush this through now as opposed to January. It should be noted that Kissinger, Baker, and Schultz specifically say themselves that they are not urging any specific timeframe for approval (i.e., they do not reject the idea that the elected Senate, as opposed to the lame-duck un-elected Senate, should do this).

One of the biggest arguments is over some language in the preamble which nods towards the Russian position on missile defense, stating that while Russia doesn't mind our current ballistic defense system (which is tiny), any expansion of that system might compromise the Russian deterrent.

Proponents of the treaty argue that language in a preamble is not in fact binding; it is informative, a guidance, a statement of principles only, and not actually executable provisions.

That's not really true. In a pinch, courts have been known to use preamble language as legally binding. In one of the most outrageous cases of this, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned a duly-enacted constitutional amendment requiring a 2/3rds majority to raise taxes on the basis that the preamble of the constitution spoke of "promoting the general welfare" or suchlike and that, they said, was enough to make another part of the state constitution unconstitutional.

Judges do crap like this.

So do presidents. And that's the bigger problem. Meese and Perle says that preamble language establishes a "bias" against missile defense if not quite a bar. The suspicion I have (and I think they probably do as well) is that Barack H. Obama will treat that preamble as legally binding, because he wants to limit missile defense anyway, and will use it as political cover for such actions.

"My hand was forced," he will say. "It's in the treaty. What else can I do?" (Similar to how Republicans can use tougher rules about spending to do push politically-difficult cuts.)

I suspect this is a way to back-door a missile-defense limitation that would never fly politically if put to a vote via this supposedly unenforceable preamble language, which, wonder of wonders, will suddenly become quite enforceable when the treaty is approved.

And that kind of crap will cut some ice with the public.

At the very least, this debate needs to be delayed until the real, elected Senate is seated, rather than the voted-out non-Senators there now.

And unless additional concessions can be wrung from Obama on this point -- that he agrees the preamble language is entirely gestural and has no legal or political force at all -- it should be left to sit until he is willing to make such guarantees.

Twelve Flaws in the START Treaty: Another one -- our global strike response program (rapid-rocket conventional-warhead weapons, basically delivering a prompt conventional payload in an hour or so) is counted against our nuclear-arms cap. I guess on the theory it can be used to take out a nuclear missile silo.

I don't know if that's big enough a problem to be a major hurdle (depends on how many of these sorts of weapons we want/need) but at first blush it sounds objectionable. We should be encouraging less-than-nuclear responses, not treating them as if they're nuclear.

More flaws here.

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posted by Ace at 03:06 PM

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