In sum, the Republicans — who have been denied access to the negotiating history — suspect (correctly, I think) that the Russians don’t share the administration’s understanding of the treaty. For, if President Putin [sic] would readily agree that the preamble is not binding and there is no linkage between offensive and defensive weapons, then why wouldn’t the Obama administration simply ask for that confirmation? ~Jennifer Rubin

Of all the strange arguments against the treaty, this one has to be the strangest. The preamble is non-binding. What matters for the purposes of ratification is how our government understands the preamble. The resolution of ratification is one way of expressing this understanding. The resolution can be amended without Russian approval, and it is legally binding on future administrations. Treaty opponents keep insisting on amending non-binding language in the premable because they don’t actually want to improve the treaty. If they did, they would make amendments to the resolution, and give their recommendations the force of law. That isn’t what they want. As they have made quite clear, they want to prevent ratification. They may succeed, but no one should have any illusions that this has anything to do with defending American security and rights.

Treaty opponents claim to be concerned with the possibility that the treaty limits missile defense. It does not. The administration insists that it does not understand the treaty to limit missile defense in any meaningful way. Treaty opponents’ repeated demands for assurances from the Kremlin have a strained, desperate quality to them. As the Arms Control Association’s summary states very clearly, there is nothing at all remarkable about the statement in the preamble:

Finally, both sides have made unilateral statements about the relationship between missile defense deployments and the treaty. These statements are not legally binding, and similar statements were issued with previous treaties, including START I.

As for “linkage,” it is common sense to acknowledge that there is a relationship (or “interrelationship,” as the preamble says) between offensive and defensive arms. Acknowledging the existence of such a relationship is very different from stating that defensive arms are unacceptable, should not be developed, or must be limited. The preamble says nothing like that. This is the precise language from the preamble:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties [bold mine-DL],

In other words, the preamble includes an acknowledgment by the Russians that U.S. missile defense does not undermine the Russian strategic arsenal. What this means is that the preamble rejects a standard Russian complaint against U.S. missile defense. Of course, the preamble is non-binding. The preamble does not require the Russians to embrace U.S. missile defense plans, but neither does it limit what the U.S. can do. One could say with even more justification that this passage in the preamble affirms U.S. missile defense. If the preamble were legally binding, it would be members of the Duma complaining about this section rather than U.S. Senators. However, the discussion is irrelevant because the preamble is non-binding. Objections to the treaty on account of this non-binding language are without merit. It drives home just how pathetically weak the anti-ratification position is that this is one of its better arguments.

Update: In an unexpected boost for ratification, Thad Cochran of Mississippi has announced that he will support the treaty. That significantly improves the treaty’s chances.