May 28, 2020
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US role vital on path to nuclear security

Vice President Joe Biden recently spoke at the National Defense University in Washington about the importance of nuclear nonproliferation and our nation’s nuclear deterrent. His talk is very timely, considering the impending Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty follow-on agreement with Russia, the Nuclear Posture Review in March, a nuclear security summit in April and pursuing ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, or CTBT.

We in Maine are connected to the future of nuclear weapons nonproliferation by the absolute importance of the support and leadership of Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins on the votes for START and CTBT that require 67 senators to vote in favor for ratification.

The new START treaty is a bilateral agreement now being negotiated that would verifiably cut Russian and American nu-clear warheads by more than a quarter from current levels. The CTBT would help to prevent other states from conducting the tests that could lead to new and more deadly weapons.

The vice president’s Feb. 18 remarks on the Obama administration’s commitment to maintaining a secure and reliable nuclear deterrent emphasized the security threat posed by the spread of nuclear weapons. While the United States must keep a secure nuclear deterrent, it must also work to decrease the dangers of nuclear weapons worldwide by reducing excess Cold War weapons and ending nuclear testing around the world. The treaties mentioned above are steps to a safer world.

On the other hand, the Obama administration’s proposal to increase funding for stockpile stewardship should dispel any doubts that the nuclear weapons labs don’t have more than enough funding and expertise to maintain the arsenal in the absence of nuclear testing.

A report completed late last year by a high-level scientific panel states that nei-ther nuclear tests nor new warhead designs are needed to maintain safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. This is due in part to a decade’s advances in supercomputers, which make lab-based simulations possible. The JASON Project, reviewing the nuclear weapons Lifetime Extension Program, concluded, “Lifetimes of today’s nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in confidence, by using approaches similar to those employed in LEPs to date.”

The CTBT bans all nuclear test explosions worldwide. The U.S. has the world’s most advanced and developed nuclear arsenal, and no longer needs to test nuclear weapons, and has adhered to a self-imposed, congressionally approved testing moratorium for almost two decades. Therefore, it is in the U.S.’ national security interests to prevent countries that could benefit from nuclear testing, such as China, Pakistan and Iran, from doing so. The best way to do this would be to ratify the CTBT.

Much has changed since the last time the CTBT came up for ratification more than a decade ago. The monitoring network worldwide now has grown from its nascent stages in 1999 to a widespread system of more than 250 sensitive devices around the world, with a target of 337 under the authority of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. These chemical and seismic monitors supplement the capacity of our own U.S. facilities.

Finally, the number of CTBT supporters has increased over time to include many outstanding leaders in our country’s bipartisan foreign and military circles. These include influential figures such as former Sen. Sam Nunn, former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, former Secretaries of Defense Harold Brown, Melvin R. Laird, and William Perry, and former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gens. Colin Powell, John Shalikashvili and David Jones.

In light of the policies stated by Vice President Biden and the support for non-proliferation voiced by the major players above, I hope that Sens. Snowe and Collins are attentive to a bipartisan agenda for nuclear security and vote in favor to ratify both the START follow-on and CTBT treaties.

Beth Edmonds, former president of the Maine Senate, lives in Freeport.

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