Brown Barn Coats and START

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Mass. Sen. Scott Brown in his toast-colored barn coat

I’ve got to hand it to Scott Brown, the new Republican senator from Massachusetts. He and his staff do e-mail well.  I wrote to him about the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) on November 6 and I got a full and forthright reply November 9. It’s not what I wanted him to say, but it’s better than the replies I get from the other guy, which don’t even refer to the subject I wrote about.

The New START  is one of the things the Senate might take up when they come back to work on November 15. I’d feel some better if they’d ratify it. I didn’t bother writing to John Kerry; until the year ends he’s chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which gave it a favorable report last September.

At present we are without a treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear arms stockpiles on both sides. The first START treaty expired in December, 2009. Last April (on the birthday I share with the Buddha) Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed a new one. It calls for reductions and verification that the promise is kept on both sides. It still leaves both countries with enough nuclear power to cause each other a serious headache, but it’s, um, a start.

I wrote to Sen. Brown to ask him both to call for it to come up for a vote, and to vote for it.  I’m not sure his vote is needed, actually. Word is that the 67 votes necessary to ratify are there if only Harry Reid allows it to come up. Dems forgive me, I was really trying to be helpful.

The treaty has the support of so many heavy hitters, a true bipartisan endorsement. Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Quaker lobbying group that has been on the case since Day One, lists them:

Various foreign policy experts support the agreement, including former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, and former START negotiator Ambassador Linton Brooks.

It doesn’t however, at least at this point, have Sen. Brown’s support. He wrote, in part,

I, along with several of my Senate colleagues, have expressed concern with the draft resolution in its current form, specifically regarding its impact on U.S. missile defense objectives and capabilities and its effect on our ability to modernize our nuclear enterprise.


In considering all issues related to our national defense and nuclear weapons in particular, I am committed to ensuring America’s ability to protect itself against threats is maintained and our allies are not negatively impacted.  So long as nuclear weapons remain a threat to America, it is critical that the United States pursue a nuclear policy that provides for a nuclear arsenal that is both strong and safe.

Someone might want to break it to Scott Brown that presidents of the United States and Russia do not sign draft treaties and turn them over to their respective legislatures to edit. The vote, if it comes, will be on ratification. Yes or No. Up or Down. In or Out.  No Ifs, Ands, or Buts.

What’s more, in light of all the weight on the side of ratifying the treaty — a few hundred years’ of foreign and defense policy experience is represented in the list of endorsers — I won’t break my head trying to wrap it around the hubris of the winner in a special election in which one candidate did all the campaigning, setting himself up as the arbiter of whether the US will be safer with this treaty or none at all.

The good news is he heard me.  He told me so and I believe every thing he tells me.  When it comes time to vote, he’s going to think about what I think. He’s so honest he didn’t promise to vote the way I want him to, but he’s going to think about what I said.

I will keep your views in mind when the Senate considers nuclear weapons, New START, or related legislation.

Actually, Brown would do better to think of the 62 to 93 percent of people polled in 20 of 21 countries, including the US, who favor eliminating nuclear weapons entirely. Pakistan was the only country where 46 percent favored nuclear disarmament, 41 were opposed.  If Brown, newly hatched from the Massachusetts state senate, knows anything about the state he represents, he’ll recognize that this largely liberal state is closer to the 93 percent figure than the lower one.

When Brown, who is said to own five houses, went out campaigning in his pickup truck he wore a barn coat, just like a regular working guy. The color of the coat was toast. With the TEA Party coming at him on one side and a largely center-left populace on the other, I’d say his sense of color is spot on.

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