How the Scott Brown Upset May Change U.S.-Russia Relations

Writing in the Moscow Times today, David Firestein of the EastWest Institute argues that the Democrat’s loss of the Massachusetts senatorial seat to Republican Scott Brown will make 2010 a very tough year for President Barack Obama to pursue his Russia agenda, as some lawmakers may be tempted to block the ratification of a replacement for the START and the test ban treaties.  Not that it will matter too much – it seems like Vladimir Putin is also determined to block or at least delay a new treaty despite Medvedev’s willingness.

The upshot is that START ratification is going to be an uphill battle for the Obama administration. Substantively, many Republicans, and some Democrats, have concerns about key provisions of the accord, particularly, those pertaining to verification provisions. In addition, many senators have expressed concerns that START shouldn’t be ratified unless they can secure guarantees that the reduced U.S. nuclear arsenal will be sufficiently modernized. Politically, the Republicans, emboldened by strong state-wide victories in recent months in Virginia, New Jersey and now Massachusetts, will be disinclined to hand Obama a significant foreign policy achievement in advance of midterm elections in the fall.

Getting the CTBT ratified will be even tougher. As a candidate,Obama made the CTBT a major focal point of his foreign policy platform,promising to “build consensus behind ratification of the ComprehensiveTest Ban Treaty.” That consensus was elusive in 1999, the last timethat the treaty was put to a test in the Senate, and will likely beeven more elusive in 2010. In 1999, ratification failed by a margin of48-51 — well short of the requisite 67 votes. The vote went downlargely along party lines, with most Democrats supporting the agreementand most Republicans opposing it. In 2010, the congressional terrainlooks equally forbidding for CTBT passage.