General Brent Scowcroft (ret.), the former National Security Advisor to both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, has been working the phones trying to secure Republican Senate support for the ratification of the New START nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia. He said he’s “cautiously optimistic” but said he was frustrated with the opposition he’s been hearing from Republicans.
“It’s baffling to me,” Scowcroft told ABC News.
“It doesn’t tie our hands on missile defense,” Scowcroft said of one main criticism, “as the president has already demonstrated; we’re moving ahead on missile defense on Europe.”
“There are things in the treaty people don’t like,” he continued, “but right now we have no oversight over what Russians are doing inside with their own nuclear systems” because the previous START treaty expired one year ago this month. “This would restore that, so we can carry forward all the accounting, the rules, the assurances, the inspections — all the things giving us the confidence to go ahead. Without those it seems to me we’re absolutely nowhere.”
Scowcroft is just one of many Republican foreign policy officials backing the treaty – others include George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice, and former President George H.W. Bush.
The retired Air Force general was reluctant to name the Senators he’d been calling, saying only that he hadn’t been calling “the ones who are hopeless” except for the leader of Senate Republican opposition, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., about whom Scowcroft said, “he’s pretty hopeless now.”
Scowcroft says ratifying START will allow the U.S. to move forward on other issues Republican Senators have criticized the treaty for not containing, “like covering non-strategic warheads. It really baffles me. I’ve got to think that something else is at stake as to why the opposition is there. Especially for somebody like Senator Kyl, who has gotten as much as guarantee as the president can give on providing more money for the modernization of our nuclear stockpile. What does he think is going to happen to that?”
The man who served as the chairman of President George W. Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board acknowledged that he was “expressing some frustration here. But I just don’t understand the opposition. Some of it with John McCain is (opposition to the repeal of) Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, some of it is politics. But to play politics with what is in the fundamental national interest is pretty scary stuff.”
Scowcroft said that “this is not just the treaty, this is trying to put our relationship with the Russians on a sounder basis so we can move forward with a lot of things we really need Ruissian help with,” such as the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran and the war in Afghanistan.
“And the Russians are basically with us with on all those issues but we’re going to stick a finger in their eye,” he said.
Scowcroft said he was in regular consultation with some former Soviet officials who are “worried” about the Senate not ratifying the treaty. “They say the climate is thawing in Russia towards us and this would set it back significantly.”