President Obama says his new nuclear policy restricts the use of weapons while continuing to protect the United States and its allies, but some Republican critics argue that the world is now less safe and that the president's vision of a nuclear-free world is unrealistic.
It's unclear if the pushback will impact the pending Senate vote on ratification of the U.S.-Russian nuclear disarmament treaty that Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are scheduled to sign Thursday in Prague.
White House officials are increasingly expressing concern that the polarized political atmosphere might impact what is traditionally a bipartisan vote. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs again brought up past votes on arms treaties: the 1972 SALT I [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks Agreement], which was ratified by a vote of 88-2, START I in 1992 (93-6), START II in 1996 (87-4) and SORT [Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty] in 2003 (95-0).
In a major policy shift, the president is pledging to not use nuclear weapons against any country that has signed and is abiding by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, even if they attack the United States with chemical or biological weapons. The United States also will not conduct any new nuclear testing or develop new nuclear weapons, but it will continue to modernize its infrastructure and bolster the development of other conventional weapons.
The new nuclear policy, announced Tuesday, has Republican critics up in arms. They argue that the U.S. government is making the concessions without getting anything in return.
"If you look at the issue of threat based, the world is not getting safer, the risks to the United States are certainly increasing," Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, ranking member of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, told ABC News. "It does overall diminish our options, and I think certainly that the American people should be concerned that the president would take this kind of action and get nothing in return."
The House does not vote on treaties, but Turner said he would need to further study the new agreement with Russia before being able to express support for it.
"The Obama Administration must clarify that we will take no option off the table to deter attacks against the American people and our allies," they said in a combined statement. "We believe that preventing nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation should begin by directly confronting the two leading proliferators and supporters of terrorism, Iran and North Korea.
"The Obama administration's policies, thus far, have failed to do that and this failure has sent exactly the wrong message to other would-be proliferators and supporters of terrorism."
Across the airwaves, the president's pledge fueled the outrage of conservatives.
"I think the only thing that would work with Iran is they're thinking that there's a military consequence that could be faced if they become nuclear, and the farther he moves away from that, the more difficult his role with Iran is going to be," former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said on CNN.