On Sept. 16, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry says he will move the "New START" treaty with Russia through his committee. After canceling an earlier vote scheduled for August, Kerry is betting he can muster enough Republican votes this time to avoid a divisive party line vote. But however the committee votes, does Majority Leader Harry Reid dare bring the treaty to the Senate floor in the hyper-partisan atmosphere before the midterm elections? If he doesn't, will the prospects be any better in a lame-duck session after what political handicappers increasingly predict will be a Republican romp? What will the Obama administration have to offer -- say, more money for nuclear weapons infrastructure and missile defense -- to get Republicans on board?
The Russians have already unilaterally declared their right to pull out of the treaty if U.S. missile defenses build up to a level they find threatening. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently wrote Congress a not entirely reassuring promise that even if the Russians do play fast and loose with their New START commitments, it will not amount to "militarily significant cheating." And Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may be having flashbacks to the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty during her husband's administration, lamented publicly that New START has become "a political issue."
In this unpromising atmosphere, what would be the impact on U.S.-Russian relations and President Obama's broader nuclear non-proliferation agenda if the Senate hands New START a stinging defeat on par with its rejection of the CTBT back in 1999? Does progress on Obama's arms control agenda stop with START?