Op-Ed, 501 words

Will the Senate Come Together to Make a Safer World?

The New START treaty is a no-brainer.

Joe Volk

With the elections over, the Senate’s Republican and Democratic leaders have an opportunity to put their partisan attacks and angry rhetoric behind them. They can demonstrate to the American people that they can come together in the national interest–rather than a political party’s interest–to improve our security by ratifying the New START treaty with Russia.

Whether they choose to take this opportunity, or squander it, will say a lot about what can be accomplished in Washington in the next two years. Plus, the New START treaty is a no-brainer:

  • It makes us safer. The treaty will reduce the number of deployed nuclear weapons in U.S. and Russian arsenals.
  • It allows U.S. inspectors to resume monitoring Russian nuclear weapons. U.S. on-site inspections of Russian nuclear weapons and facilities were suspended in December 2009, when the old START Treaty expired.
  • It has the overwhelming support of military leaders and national security experts of both parties, including current and former commanders of U.S. nuclear weapons, Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz, and many others.

Yet, so far the Republicans and Democrats have failed to work out an agreement that would allow a vote on this important pact. Why? When it was first introduced some senators had questions about a few details. After 21 hearings and countless private briefings, these questions have been answered. When the treaty was brought before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September, the actual resolution the committee voted on was drafted by Sen. Dick Lugar, an Indiana Republican. In the committee, all the Democrats voted in favor of ratification, as did three Republicans.

Senate vote counters from both parties agree that if the treaty comes to a vote before the end of this year, it would almost certainly win the 67 votes necessary for ratification. In fact, it would probably win even more. When President George H.W. Bush sent the original START Treaty to the Senate for ratification in 1992, 93 Senators voted in favor. By the way, Ronald Reagan proposed that treaty.

No treaty will be perfect for everyone. As the head of a nonpartisan Quaker lobby in the public interest here in Washington, I can tell you that the New START treaty, like its predecessor START, falls far short of our goal of complete and general nuclear disarmament. Yet we believe that this treaty is a step in the right direction. If the Senate ratifies it, the treaty will further reduce the numbers of deployed nuclear weapons in both countries from 2,200 down to 1,550 on each side. That will make us all safer and more secure.

Just as importantly, we believe the resumption of inspections and verification will help to reduce the perception of threat between the United States and Russia. We believe it will increase confidence, on both sides, that peace is normal and can be maintained and built upon. Threat reduction and confidence-building between God’s children in the United States and Russia may help to prevent a new nuclear arms race. What could please God more?

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Joe Volk is executive director of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), a nonpartisan Quaker lobby in the public interest. www.fcnl.org