The “Decisive Dozen” of START Ratification

Obama and Medvedev will sign the new START treaty at a ceremony in Prague on Thursday.  But will the United States Senate ratify the treaty?  Doing so requires 67 votes and in the the current political environment that seems like a stretch. 

A couple of weeks ago Spencer Ackerman suggested that beyond Richard Lugar (who is the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee) it is hard seeing any Republicans voting for ratification of the new START treaty.  At the time, I emailed a trusted source who closely follows the legislative process of various arms control and multi-lateral treaties.  The source basically concurred, saying, “Normally I would say yes, there are enough votes to pass. But thing have gotten so partisan that R’s are saying no issues that you used to be able to count on them.”

It is with this in mind that I came across analysis (pdf) by Sophie Walker and Miles Pomper of the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies suggesting that a path toward ratification may be possible if key Republican and independent senators reprise their votes on three most recent US-Russia arms control treaties: START in 1992, START II in 1996, and the Moscow Treaty in 2003. 

There are eleven republican senators (and one independent) who voted for at least two of these treaties and are still serving in the Senate. They are:

Robert Bennet (Utah); Kit Bond (Missouri); Thad Cochran (Mississippi); Chuck Grassley (Iowa); Judd Gregg (New Hampshire); Orrin Hatch (Utah); Kay Bailey Hutchinson (Texas); Richard Lugar (Indiana); John McCain (Arizona); Lisa Murkowski (Alaska); Olympia Snow (Maine); and one Independent, Joe Lieberman (Connecticut)

Walker and Pomper calls this group “the decisive dozen.” In reality, there are only 11–Lugar has already made clear he supports the bill — who will be effectively ‘decisive.’ This means that if only seven other Republicans and Joe Lieberman keep their votes consistent with their past votes on Russia-U.S. Arms control treaties, the new START has a chance of getting ratified. To put it another way, the fate of START ratification depends on whether or not this group will opportunistically oppose START just because President Obama and the Democrats support it.