By Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson

Bob Corker has defied typecasting for a freshman senator, emerging in his first few years in the U.S. Capitol as a go-to leader for getting work done across party lines. Tennesseans should urge him to continue in this vein by leading his fellow Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

New START, which was signed by President Obama and Russian President Medvedev this April, is presently under review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and could be sent to the Senate floor as soon as late July. The Treaty is a conservative and modest reduction in both nations’ strategic nuclear forces. It limits each side’s deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, a reduction of approximately 30 percent from the 2002 Moscow Treaty, and restricts deployed delivery vehicles—ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers—to 800.

Perhaps most significantly, New START will continue the verification regime that has given us intelligence on Russian forces for the past two decades. START I, which was proposed by President Reagan and signed by President George H.W. Bush, expired last December. Though both nations have agreed to continue abiding by its provisions in the interim, the need to formalize these trust-building mechanisms has led Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to urge the Senate to ratify New START “as soon as possible.”

Senator Corker has been a careful and thoughtful questioner throughout the more than 10 Senate hearings thus far on New START. He has heard a level of bipartisan support that is nearly unimaginable in the current, poisonously partisan environment of the Beltway. Treaty endorsements so far have come from top security officials representing every administration from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, including George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, and James Schlesinger. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “The New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America's military leadership,” citing “the security it provides to the American people.”

Equally telling is the opposition to the Treaty, which has proven shockingly weak. The voices raised against New START have been primarily those of individuals whose foremost interest is not improving national security, but scoring political points against the Obama White House. Mitt Romney, as an aspiring 2012 presidential candidate, has emerged as the most prominent national critic to date—but nuclear experts dubbed his error-riddled and embarrassingly ill-informed op-ed against New START as “flat wrong” and “shabby, misleading, and…thoroughly ignorant.”

In the meanwhile, red herrings—the Treaty’s alleged impact on American missile defense, for example—have been thoroughly refuted by those who are actually responsible for national security, like Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, who testified that, “The New START Treaty actually reduces previous START treaty's constraints on developing missile defense programs in several areas.”

Yet despite New START’s overwhelming bipartisan support and substantive merit, its fate in the Senate is uncertain. The question is which direction Republican senators will go. Senator Richard Lugar, a recognized expert in nuclear arms control and the GOP’s elder statesman on foreign policy, has declared his strong support for the Treaty; Senators James Inhofe and Jim DeMint have stated their opposition. Senator Corker’s decision on New START could be a bellwether for the rest of the GOP caucus.

Let’s be candid: if this Treaty, which has the unanimous support of our military leadership, had been negotiated by a Republican president, ratification would be both expeditious and with a huge majority. This means that the sticking point is that New START is President Obama’s treaty. Unfortunately, some Senate Republicans seem to be choosing the “party of no” over the traditional axiom that “politics stops at the water’s edge”—preventing the ratification of a treaty that is so obviously in our national security interests.

Senator Corker’s conservative credentials are above reproach. But in an increasingly ideological Capitol, he faces an uphill battle to employ the commonsense pragmatism that he demonstrated as a successful businessman and mayor. Tennesseans would do well to exercise our responsibilities as active citizens and stand behind Senator Corker, letting him know we appreciate his style of leadership on behalf of our state and our nation—and that we welcome the political courage necessary to choose the greater national good over oppressive partisanship.
The Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is the founding director of the Nashville-based Two Futures Project, an organization of Evangelical Christians for nuclear security.
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