Is New START really a new era?

Opponents even now are stepping up their efforts to derail U.S.-Russia relations

Daniel Larison

After a last-minute push by the Obama administration, the Senate finally ratified the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with the surprising support of thirteen Republicans. Despite the concerted opposition of almost all of the Republican leadership, the main achievement of the U.S.-Russian “reset” of relations survived, but the treaty debate nonetheless weakened the reset approach politically in the United States. Last week, the former Yukos executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted at the end of his politically motivated trial, which gave opponents of the reset a new occasion to claim vindication. Connecting Khodorkovsky’s trial to U.S.-Russian relations is just the latest episode in the two-year campaign to judge the reset approach by impossibly high standards in order to pronounce it a failure.

Sen. John McCain has been a longstanding advocate of several confrontational policies aimed at Russia, not least of which has been the effort to continue NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia. During the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, which independent observers have determined was largely the fault of the Georgian government, McCain rashly declared, “We are all Georgians now,” and in a recent speech urged the resumption of arms sales to Georgia and denounced the post-war Russian presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. During the treaty debate, he cited the Khodorkovsky trial as proof that Moscow could not trusted, as if the trial had anything to do with a bilateral treaty. By dragging in irrelevant issues and encouraging clashes between the U.S. and Russia over tangential disputes, such as Georgia, McCain tried to scuttle the arms reduction treaty and generally seems intent on derailing U.S.-Russian rapprochement.

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Daniel Larison has a Ph.D. in history and is a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He also writes on the blog Eunomia.