David E. Hoffman: Why Republicans Should Support Obama's Nuke Treaty

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[David E. Hoffman is a contributing editor to Foreign Policy and is the author of The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy, which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.]

The new strategic arms treaty with Russia is a gift for Republicans, not as a political weapon against President Barack Obama, but as the fruit of their own labors. The treaty is a logical, modest step down the long road of strategic nuclear arms control, led by Republicans from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan. In all those years of the Cold War, whether by détente or confrontation, they sought to restrain an existential threat and create rules and stability in a world of mistrust and uncertainty.

The new treaty goes further toward those goals than the hawks of yesteryear could have ever imagined. Republicans ought to vote for ratification and tell voters they fulfilled Reagan's greatest wish, to lock in lower levels of the most dangerous weapons on Earth. Reagan often talked about "peace through strength," and this treaty measures up to the slogan.

The might of the United States as a strategic power remains unrivaled, while Russia's forces are a shadow of Soviet days, long overdue for modernization. Sure, in global politics, Russia loves hardball and will remain stubborn and aggressive. Its current leaders have not entirely broken free of the Soviet mindset. But we should not treat Russia as a threatening Evil Empire. It is a troubled petrostate with nukes, a country of enormous potential suffering a long and deep humiliation. The treaty is a good way to fasten down some predictability in the years to come.

In the Senate, Democrats are expected to vote for the treaty, but it will need eight Republicans for ratification. So far it is not clear which direction the Republican minority will choose, though the treaty has the support of Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, as well as a string of leading Republican statesmen and officials, including former Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker.

There may be a clue for today's Republicans in Reagan's twilight struggle with Soviet communism...

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