New START Needs Support

Posted Aug. 15, 2010, at 4:55 p.m.

When the U.S. Senate returns from its summer break next month, it can take an important step to increase the security of the United States and the world by ratifying the new START treaty.

A follow to the historic Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1991, new START is necessary to continue this important work. The 1991 treaty, which was proposed by President Ronald Reagan, reduced both American and Soviet nuclear arms stockpiles by 80 percent.

The 1991 agreement expired in December. It is important to remember that as long as the Senate lets the new START treaty languish, there is no formal mechanism to keep tabs on Russia’s nuclear activity, although both the U.S. and Russia have pledged to continue to honor the treaty.

The new treaty further reduces nuclear weapons stockpiles in the U.S. and Russia and continues inspections to ensure compliance.

The agreement, which needs 67 votes for ratification by the Senate, has gotten tangled up in partisan politics, posturing and pork barrel negotiations. There is also a group of senators who are opposing the bill in an attempt to get more money for nuclear weapons labs in their states.

The broader context remains important. The U.S. and Russia “own 95 percent of all nuclear weapons. If we are unable between the two of us to make any progress in stability, what would this do to our urging others not to proliferate, not to go to nuclear weapons because they’re a danger to the world?” President George H.W. Bush’s National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft asked during a Brookings Institution conference last month.

In other words, if the world’s two largest nuclear powers can’t agree on weapons limits, what credibility do they have when they ask other countries to limit, or forgo, such weapons?

Further, limiting nuclear weapons, especially in Russia, which is contending with breakaway republics and home-grown terrorist groups, is important for keeping these arms out of the hands of terrorists.

“We believe the threat of nuclear terrorism remains urgent, fueled by the spread of nuclear weapons, materials and technology around the world,” President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz and former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn wrote in a July letter to Sen. Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Sen. Lugar was the only Republican on the committee to support the treaty. The committee has yet to vote on the treaty.

The treaty is also supported by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and many other top military and diplomatic leaders.

It should be supported by the U.S. Senate, too.

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