The Cable

Schwarzenegger calls opponents of New START 'idiots'

Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger returned from a trip to Moscow with Silicon Valley executives with a strong message for those who are fighting against ratification of the New START nuclear treaty with Russia.

"There are those in America that are trying to flex their muscles and pretend they're ballsy by saying, ‘we've got to keep those nuclear weapons,'" the governator told the U.S.-Russia Business Council Oct. 21. "[They think] that's very rugged, when you say that. It's not rugged at all. It's an idiot that says that. It's stupid to say that."

He praised President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for signing the agreement to reduce both countries' stockpiles of nuclear weapons and said they were in the tradition of the arms control efforts by former President Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of State George Shultz.

He called on the Senate to ratify the treaty during the post election lame duck session in Congress, as the administration has been pushing for.

"So as soon as the election is over we've all got to concentrate so that Congress makes their move forward and does that so that we can go and live in a safer world. That's the most important thing," said Schwarzenegger.

He blamed the delay in ratifying the treaty on Congressional paralysis in the run up to the Nov. 2 election. "Now Congress has to go and agree with that and ratify it… They haven't done that because there is a paralysis in Washington, which is the sad story when you live here."

So who exactly is the former body builder turned movie star turned politician calling ballsy idiots? Well, four Senators came out against publicly START by voting against in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: John Barrasso (R-WY), James Risch (R-ID), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and James Inhofe (R-OK).

South Carolina senator and Tea Party funder Jim DeMint is a vocal opponent of New START, although he did not show up for the committee vote on the treaty. DeMint is an avowed skeptic of the U.S. effort to reset relations with Russia, which he still sometimes confuses with the Soviet Union.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), the administration's key (and only) GOP Senate ally on New START, told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday that a vote during the lame duck session might not be in the cards if Republicans score big gains on Nov. 2.

"I have no idea what the results of the election will be, but in the event that there are very substantial changes and many of them on the Republican side, some will say, ‘This [treaty] is something that we really haven't had a chance to get into and study, and we want more time,'" Lugar said, according to The Hill.

Meanwhile, Barrasso on Wednesday explicitly linked the New START treaty with an incident on Saturday morning where, according to the Atlantic, an ICBM squadron "went on the blink." The result was that 50 ICBM's were unavailable for launch for a short time. Some in the GOP seem to be adding this to the very long list of concerns they have with the treaty.

"The accident shows that the United States has far more nuclear weapons than it needs for any conceivable military mission. Even without the 50 ICBMs, the United States had 400 other ICBMs similarly armed ready to launch within 15 minutes," said Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which supports ratification. "It also has 1500 additional warheads on 12 Trident submarines and a fleet of bombers ready to go. The New Start treaty trims that overkill capacity by a few hundred weapons over 7 years. We will still have enough destructive force in the US arsenal to destroy the planet."

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The Cable

Child soldiers backlash: White House argues continuing military assistance more important than enforcing law

The Obama administration quietly waived a key section of the law meant to combat the use of child soldiers for four toubled states on Monday, over the objections the State Department's democracy and human rights officials. Today, the White House tells The Cable that they intend to give these countries -- all of whose armed forces use underage troops -- one more year to improve before bringing any penalties to bear.

The NGO community was shocked by the announcement, reported Tuesday by The Cable, that President Obama authorized exemptions from all penalties set to go into effect this year under the Child Soldier Prevention Act of 2008. The countries that received waivers were Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen.

The failure of the administration to consult or even warn those groups that had worked hard to pass the law caused unease and concern around the advocacy community Tuesday. Child protection advocates worried that the administration was abandoning the tactic of threatening to cut off military assistance as a means to pressure abusive regimes to stop forcibly recruiting troops under the age of 18.

"This took us totally by surprise and was a complete shock to people who are working in the field," said Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, a children-focused humanitarian organization.

On Tuesday evening, a White House official explained to The Cable the reasons for the decision and the details of what it means for U.S. activity in the affected countries. Essentially, the administration decided that it could not ensure that the offending countries would be able to abide by the law in time -- the breach of which would have required Washington to pull funding. In the end, the administration's calculus weighed in favor of continuing to fund several ongoing assistance programs like military training and counterterrorism advising. They decided to give each country at least one more year to implement reforms before sanctions are brought to bear, according to the official.

"This is the first year that sanctions were to take effect and part of our thinking here has been to put countries on notice of these legal provisions that are taking effect for the first time and that progress is going to have to be made on these things if these countries are going to continue to receive assistance," the White House official said.

The official also noted that the Obama administration was keen to preserve their relationships with the governments in question and argued that engaging troubled militaries was the most effective way to encourage the reform the law was designed to bring about.

"We still think it's important to maintain a solid relationship with the governments there to ensure they provide protection to those folks," the official said. "One rationale for continuing the assistance is to help them address the very problem that is the source of the sanctions."

Inside the administration, however, The Cable has learned that there was a heated debate over whether to issue the waivers. Apparently, this debate was held inside the State Department, with the bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) and the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons arguing against blanket exemptions. The bureau of Political and Military Affairs (PM) argued for the exemptions. The PM bureau's argument won the day and the State Department submitted recommendations to the White House, which issued the waivers.

The 2008 Child Soldier Prevention Act was originally sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and wrapped into a larger bill sponsored by then Sen. Joe Biden. Durbin's office was not able to comment by deadline and Biden's office deferred to the White House.

Leading human rights activists involved in the issue were skeptical that letting abusive governments evade sanctions would have the effect of producing reform faster.

"This is the first year it's being enacted, so to waive everyone right out of the gate sends exactly the wrong message," said Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch. "By providing a blanket waiver, the U.S. is really giving up all of its leverage to force them to change their approach to using child soldiers."

She also criticized the official's contention that the abusive countries needed more time to become aware of the law, which was signed in December 2008. It became operative in June 2009 but couldn't go into effect until violator countries were identified in the State Department's 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, which came out in June.

"If the State Department was doing its job, governments would have been well aware two years ago that this process was underway," said Becker.

The 2010 Trafficking in Persons report identified six countries that are systematically employing the use of child soldiers. In addition to the four that Obama waived sanctions on, Burma and Somalia are also implicated. But neither of those countries receive U.S. military assistance that could be cut off as a sanction, according to the law. Therefore, Obama's waivers have the effect of preventing the law from imposing any sanctions at all this year.

The White House official said when the next State Department report comes out in June 2011, there will be another assessment of whether to impose penalties on violator countries. He also hastened to underline that the waivers weren't issued to pave the way for new military sales to any of the countries found to be using child soldiers.

In Chad, the U.S. is engaged in counterterrorism activities but also is working with the government's armed forces to deal with the spillover of refugees from the crisis over the Sudanese border in Darfur. In the DRC, the U.S. is providing training of various types, military advisors, and also military vehicles and spare parts to the Congolese army. Over 33,000 child soldiers have been involved in the decade old civil war there and the country leads the world in the use of underage troops, according to UNICEF.

With regard to Sudan, other sanctions prevent the United States from helping the Khartoum government in the North, but the U.S. is giving military training assistance to the Southern People's Liberation Army, which could end up a national army if the South votes to separate in the January referendum. The SPLA has about 1,200 child soldiers, the official said, adding that cutting off such training would only undermine ongoing reform efforts.

Yemen is a recipient of significant direct U.S. military assistance, having received $155 million in fiscal 2010 with a possible $1.2 billion coming over the next five years. Yemen is also a much needed ally for counterterrorism operations. The government is engaged in a bloody fight with al Qaeda (among other separatist and terrorist groups), and estimates put the ratio of child soldiers among all the groups there at more than half. Nevertheless, "the president believes there are profound equities with Yemen in terms of counterterrorism that we need to continue to work on," the official told The Cable.

Several outside experts pointed out the existing law already contains an exemption that would permit the U.S. government to sanction abuser countries while still providing assistance that "will directly support professionalization of the military."

"This exception gives the U.S. government very wide berth to continue to provide assistance to bring these militaries more in line with the American image of what their military should look like," said Rachel Stohl, Associate Fellow at the Washington office of Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. "The law allows for professionalization of these militaries, so these waivers are really disappointing and add insult to injury."

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