By Michael Miner, GPS Issue Analyst

With the signing of the strategic arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia, both nation-states have agreed to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenal to a mutually agreed upon figure. It would limit the cap of warheads to 1,550 and also put stipulations on the number and types of delivery vehicles. The goal remains the same as the initial START treaty between the US and the Soviet Union: reduce the number of nuclear warheads in existence in the interest of global nuclear security. This represents the most complex and significant arms control agreement in the history of the world and an area where both Russia and the United States have a mutual interest.

There remains a significant hurdle for the United States if they are to actively pursue this course of action. President Obama did sign the treaty and indicate the United States willingness to adopt these security measures. Yet for any international treaty of this stature the United States Senate must first ratify the language if the nation is to formally adopt this stance into security policy and defense planning.

The Foreign Relations committee is tasked with this responsibility. Chairman Senator John Kerry made a significant concession in a contentious year by withholding a Senate wide vote until after the election, but now there are concerns the treaty may not have enough votes for ratification despite its view by the President as a security imperative. It has the support of significant Republicans including the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee Senator Richard Lugar and wide backing outside the Senate. Former secretaries of state James Baker, Henry Kissinger, and Madeleine Albright have voiced support. Former defense secretaries William Cohen and William Perry are on board as well as former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Senator Sam Nunn.

The opposition? Senator Jon Kyl and other Republicans have suggested concerns about the ability for the United States to modernize a nuclear arsenal for twenty-first century conflicts. While there may be some legitimacy in these points depending on the context of the argument, it would not appear this treaty would in any way shape or form hamper US ability to reduce or replace aging warheads within outlined parameters. A combination of district interests and political gamesmanship are driving these efforts as failing to ratify this treaty would be a huge embarrassment to the President and potentially score cheap political points in the run up to 2012.

Unfortunately what those in opposition fail to realize is that it would be a huge embarrassment to the nation. Hampering future international negotiations for both Democratic and Republican administrations would be a gross disservice. Playing politics with national security is not in the best interest of the nation nor our security partners worldwide. It sets a poor example in a world yearning for an America returned to its place as the shining city upon the hill.

There is a rare chance to demonstrate to the world the United States is committed to reducing the number of nuclear warheads and increasing global security for all. An opportunity like this comes along once a decade, and leadership must secure ratification on such an important issue. Statesmanship is at a crossroads, and if we cannot take the avenue of pragmatic consensus there will be will be precarious fallout in a dramatically changing security environment.

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