Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New START is a Needed Re-Start

The New START agreement, signed by US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev, is not a major leap forward toward nuclear disarmament.  Its goals are far more modest than needed, but they are still crucial.  For the Senate to turn down ratification of the treaty would be a disaster for the country and the world, opening the door to new arms races and to new justifications for nuclear proliferation.

The treaty will reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads on each side to 1,550 and the number of deployed delivery vehicles to 700 for each country.  The treaty will also provide for verification procedures to assure compliance.  Since the expiration of the START I agreement in December 2009, there has been no agreement on verification procedures between the two countries.

President Obama has preemptively sought to buy off the Republicans in the Senate by promising an additional $80 billion for nuclear weapons over the next decade and another $100 billion for nuclear weapons delivery systems.  This promise by the President is unfortunate as it will send a message to other countries that the United States continues to seek improvement of its nuclear weapons for its security.  This will encourage other countries to pursue or expand their nuclear weapons programs, which in turn will increase the likelihood of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups.  Nuclear proliferation and increased likelihood of nuclear terrorism will further undermine US national security.

Nuclear deterrence does not make the US more secure.  There are too many ways in which nuclear deterrence can fail.  In fact, it has come perilously close to failing on many occasions during the Nuclear Age.  We can certainly deduce that a terrorist group that cannot be located and whose members are suicidal is not subject to being deterred.  No matter how large the US nuclear arsenal, it will be ineffective in deterring nuclear terrorists should they obtain a nuclear device.

This understanding should dictate US leadership toward achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.  It is a goal that President Obama has said the US is committed to achieving.  The way to that goal lies through the New START agreement with the Russians.  Should the New START agreement be defeated in the Senate, it will not be only a stinging defeat for the President.  It will be a deeply troubling setback for the security of the American people and the people of the world. 

In considering the New START agreement, the American people should keep in mind that nuclear weapons cannot provide physical protection for them.  All that policymakers are capable doing with nuclear weapons is threatening retaliation, carrying out of the act of retaliation, or striking preventively with them.  Nuclear arms are devices of mass annihilation.  They are capable of destroying civilization and most complex forms of life, including the human species. 

The New START agreement is a step toward nuclear sanity.  The members of the Senate who would vote against the treaty are still basing national security on Mutually Assured Destruction, which is truly MAD.  We are in need of a shift in thinking that moves us toward Planetary Assured Security and Survival (PASS), which will allow us to pass the world on intact to new generations.

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