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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.

O-H… I-O! Patrick and I rolled into Ohio State on Saturday morning, just in time for the Ohio State – Penn State game. Our objective: talk to students about the need for nuclear disarmament. Our tactics: well, talk to students. And invite them to a screening of the powerful new documentary ‘Countdown to Zero’. And maybe give them a snappy button or sticker to keep the cause in mind.

Over the next two days we spoke to over 500 students, and collected over 100 postcards to send to Ohio Senators Voinovich and Brown. Phew. Our tongues are indeed tired. We also made some great new friends who helped promote the screening (hi Tara!), including students in the American Nuclear Society Student Chapter at OSU (shout out to Al! Thanks for all of your help!).

Word to the wise: Talking to people about anything other than Terrelle Pryor on their way to “the Shoe” on a Saturday afternoon maybe isn’t the best approach. This town is addicted to their Buckeyes! Thankfully we didn’t decide to dress Pat in the nuke suit. Might have been dangerous. 😉

If you have not, then you’re in luck because AIDemocracy has made it very easy to contact your Senator and urge them to ratify New START without delay!

New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) is the first treaty in more than a decade that calls for significant reductions in the strategic nuclear arsenals of both the United States and Russia, the two nations that possess over 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons. And it also provides for intrusive inspections and verification that each party to the treaty is holding up their end of the bargain. The treaty has received overwhelming support by both Democrats and Republicans, and it is a key first step towards achieving a world without nuclear weapons, a goal that President Obama has explicitly set for the United States.

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Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran is ready to resume talks with the West regarding its nuclear program. He stated however, that any negotiations will fail if the West does not clearly come out against Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal. He made it clear that there will be no achievements whatsoever if the West does not change its policy towards Israel, Iran’s archrival. The West, especially the U.S., will have to make great sacrifices in its foreign relations with Israel in order to meet Iran’s demands, which is something that is highly unlikely to happen. It may appear that Iran is using Israel’s suspected nuclear program in a way to move tensions away from its own.

EU foreign affairs and security Chief Catherine Ashton has suggested the talks to be held in Vienna in November with the P5+1 Countries (the U.S., the U.K., China, France and Russia plus Germany) while U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was up to Iran to set a date. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has signaled that October or November seems like a suitable time for talks with P5 + 1.

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This past month, authorities in Moldova (a former USSR territory) arrested a group of traffickers who were trying to smuggle two kilograms of highly radioactive uranium, specifically uranium 238 for the price of $11 million US dollars. Although this type of uranium is not what would be needed to be used for the production of nuclear weapons (nor is it even enough), it nevertheless could still produce a so-called “dirty bomb,” spreading radiation in concentrations above what is considered safe for humans to be exposed to. You can find out more about this arrest and arrests similar to it here.

From my perspective, these incidents tell me several things. The first is that the ease of access to nuclear material in the territories of the former Soviet Union is a security issue that needs to be addressed immediately. The second is that the black market for these materials is thriving and shows no sign of stopping, which is certainly aided by how freely available the materials are to gain access to. The third is that nuclear terrorism needs to be recognized as the number one national security threat the US and the world faces. The reason being because the people most likely to purchase this smuggled nuclear material are terrorists themselves who seek to use a “dirty” bomb, or worse, a nuclear bomb, against their enemies. The fourth and final observation I gleamed from these various smuggling incidents is the need to expedite the process towards getting to nuclear zero (a world without nuclear weapons).

The elimination of nuclear weapons will undoubtedly require the halting of the production of new nuclear materials and the safe storage and/or reprocessing of old nuclear material, like that stored all over the territories of the former Soviet Union. Taking these steps will dramatically reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism. However, in the current political environment, the successful negotiation of an FMCT (Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty) is still a long way off. However, we do have an immediate step that we can take. We can ratify New START. Ratifying New START will not only reduce the threats posed by nuclear weapons, but it will also be an enormous step in building trust again between the US and Russia, which may go a long way to also helping Russia secure the nuclear materials that smugglers seem to so easily get their hands on. President Obama has already made a commitment to secure all loose nuclear materials across the globe by 2013. An ambitious goal to be sure, and only attainable if a first step is taken to START the process.

We should help in this critical effort, so if you would like to take action on getting New START ratified, follow this link to our action page where you can write and/or call your Senators urging them to ratify New START once they return from Congressional recess in September!

It seems that given all of the fire and brimstone that Republicans love to shout will be raining down upon us for our shameless “tax and spend” policies of recent years, you would think that they themselves, to remain consistent with their statements, would be hawks when it comes to federal spending. And indeed they are, when it comes to spending on providing adequate health care of America’s citizens and various other social welfare services. However, there seems to be a rather large exception for when it comes to military spending, particularly when it comes to nuclear weapons, and especially when the spending can directly affect how much money comes into a particular state.

Take Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) as an example, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is tasked with the responsibility of voting the New START out of committee so it can be put to a vote before the full Senate for its ratification. Recently, he has stated that he feels the federal funds for the upkeep of the nuclear weapons complex, of which the Obama administration has already allocated $80 billion for (which is already an unprecedented increase), is somehow $10 billion short of what is needed. There is much debate in Washington about where he actually is getting that figure from, and most accounts say that he is pointing to inaccurate and outdated figures, but that’s not what the larger issue is here. What is at play here is Sen. Corker’s willingness to delay the ratification of New START, thus tampering with our nation’s national security efforts, all because he wants some more funding for the Uranium Processing Facility planned for the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Do you know what they call this type of frivolous and unnecessary spending? You should, and so should Sen. Corker because he and his party have used the term constantly to derail various other spending projects, especially by Democrats. It’s called “pork.” However, don’t count on Sen. Corker using that term when talking about acquiring more money for this facility in his home state. Why would he anyway? Hypocrisy and irresponsibility seem to be a suit that’s tailor-made for him.

Given the title of this post, you may be understandably asking yourself, “what’s New START?” Well, let me explain. New START is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia to reduce the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons that each of us have in our nuclear arsenals down to 1,550 each, a reduction of about a third of the current stockpiles. The reason the treaty is preceded by the word “New” is because there was a previous START, which was negotiated and ratified back when President George H. W. Bush was in office in 1991. That treaty expired on December 5th, 2009. Therefore, we have not had a treaty in place to replace the first START in almost a year. New START attempts to fill this gap.

I provide all of this background to you for several reasons. One, because I feel it is critically important to simply be aware of current events, especially with regard to nuclear weapons. However, more importantly, it is crucial you understand the issues surrounding arms control and nonproliferation if you are to work towards the goal of the elimination of all nuclear weapons, of which ratifying New START is an integral step.  Now you may be asking yourself, but why do I want to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons? Don’t they assure that another country who also has nuclear weapons won’t launch an attack against us because they know we would do the same to them? Again, allow me to explain briefly.

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