KickSTART to the 21st Century

The president got a New START. Now he needs the Senate to ratify it.

This should be a no-brainer. When Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed the treaty, dubbed New START, in Prague today, they were doing a lot more than concluding a dry, complex arms reduction agreement. The accord is a pragmatic and essential first step in strengthening American security.

The Cold War is over, but the weapons remain. Though we no longer fear global thermonuclear war between America and Russia, a nuclear explosion in an American city would be an unimaginable catastrophe. There are still 23,000 nuclear weapons held by nine different nations. Our military and security leaders agree: nuclear terrorism and the emergence of new nuclear states are the greatest threat to our nation. To prevent these threats we have to reduce the global stockpiles, secure all weapons material and block new nuclear-armed nations.

The New START treaty is part of the administration’s effort to develop a comprehensive national defense strategy that focuses on these 21st-century threats. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen gave his emphatic endorsement:

Through the trust it engenders, the cuts it requires, and the flexibility it preserves this treaty enhances our ability to do that which we have been charged to do: protect and defend the citizens of the United States.  I am as confident in its success as I am in its safeguards.

That is why this administration worked for a year to secure this follow-on to the 1991 START agreement, which was a legacy of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Those presidents knew, as did Nixon, Kennedy and Eisenhower before them, that sustained attention to arms control reductions made the U.S. stronger and safer.

The New START will make this country more secure in several ways. It lowers the limits on deployed strategic bombs to levels not seen since the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. It also establishes a cutting-edge verification process that allows us to track Russia’s nuclear activities and verify their reductions. Our intelligence agencies will enjoy enhanced monitoring capabilities that will give them greater knowledge of Russian nuclear forces and plans.

We will also gain greater international stability. This treaty is a key step in gaining the global cooperation that we need to prevent nuclear terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons. It will also help us to box in hostile states like Iran and North Korea by clearly reaffirming the U.S.’s and Russia’s commitment to disarmament, and move other states to take the steps necessary to secure nuclear materials and block nuclear weapons trade and development — steps that are often expensive or cut against the commercial interests of many key nations.

A Bipartisan Issue – But Will We See Bipartisan Support?

This is why New START has broad, bipartisan support from former military and national security leaders. Former Republican Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger and former Democratic Secretary of Defense Bill Perry and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) have lauded the treaty (PDF) as an important step.

But there are problems standing in the way of quick Senate action. For one thing, there are nuclear Neanderthals that remain inside the beltway, clinging to Cold War theories and strategies. And the partisan rancor in Washington has become almost radioactive, with cheap political point-scoring taking precedent over the business of governance. Remember that treaties need to be approved by two-thirds of the Senate — a heavy lift considering the political environment.

Can the U.S. Senate rise above the partisan bluster and Tea Party talking points and focus on what’s good for American national security? The New START is an integral part of a smart, strong and pragmatic nuclear policy plan. Senators should approve this treaty before they take off for summer vacation.

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