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Last Updated:6/6/11

Talking Points Memo

Kyl Gone Wild

By William D Hartung
Talking Points Memo
13 June 2011

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is a long-time opponent of efforts to reduce global nuclear arsenals. Kyl has rarely met a nuclear arms control agreement that he liked, nor a nuclear weapons program that he disliked, as indicated by his successful effort in 1999 to block senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). The test ban treaty would not only curb the spread of nuclear weapons but it could also serve as a major step towards deep reductions of global nuclear arsenals. Hence the opposition of Kyl and his gang of anti-arms control ideologues.

Kyl's new nemesis is the New START nuclear weapons reduction treaty that was ratified by the Senate last December by a vote of 71 to 26, with 13 of his Republican colleagues voting yes. New START is a modest but important agreement that would reduce U.S. and Russian deployed strategic warheads by one-third and reinstate a rigorous system of verification and monitoring that will make it easier to conclude and police agreements for further reductions. But Kyl is the ultimate sore loser, trying to re-argue a treaty that is now a legally binding commitment of the U.S. government. His goal in doing so is to make New START the last nuclear arms control treaty for the foreseeable future, rather than a step towards further reductions.

Kyl's latest objection to the treaty - stated in a June 6th speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate -- is incredible: he argues that the fact that Russia is reducing its arsenal more rapidly than expected is somehow an indictment of New START. While it is true that Russia has other reasons, in part economic, for not wanting to sustain as large an arsenal as it has in the past, New START helps lock in those reductions and opens the door to further cuts. But Kyl sees the world through Orwellian glasses, a world in which less is more. Because, he argues, Russia might have made its recent reductions without New START, that means the agreement amounts to a commitment to "unilateral reductions" on the part of the United States. But as noted, not only will New START lock in the reductions that have been made by Moscow, but the New START process made it easier for Moscow to contemplate and then implement these cuts. Knowing that the United States would be cutting back, not building up, and doing it in a legally binding way, gave Russia the reassurance it needed to go full speed ahead with planned reductions. For a thorough evisceration of Kyl's position on the alleged "unilateral cuts" under New START see Tom Collina's post at the blog of the Arms Control Association.

As Collina has also noted, Russia's progress on nuclear arms reductions has three major implications:
• New START is working, as Russia makes significant reductions that can be verified by on -site inspections on the part of the United States.
• We should pursue a new treaty that would implement deeper cuts, as a way to keep up the momentum in that direction and avoid the possibility of Russia "building up" to New START levels.
• The United States should accelerate its own reductions under the treaty, which aren't required until 2018 under the terms of the agreement.

At the enormous levels that now exist for the world's nuclear arsenals, the fewer nuclear weapons there are, the safer we all will be. Except that is, in the parallel universe inhabited by Jon Kyl, where Russian reductions that are greater than anticipated are a reason to stop nuclear arms control dead in its tracks. Hopefully this twisted logic will be seen for what it is, both by the public and by the vast majority of his Senate colleagues.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex

Copyright, Talking Points Memo, 2011. Original article available here.

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