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Arms Treaty Must Not Be Derailed

| November 23, 2010

title
Global Zero: A World Without Nuclear Weapons

Author and former covert CIA operations officer Valerie Plame Wilson, whose career protecting national security is depicted in the new movie "Fair Game," issues an urgent plea to the Senate to ratify the New START treaty without delay.

For me, the most bittersweet moment watching the new movie “Fair Game” comes when it shows my clandestine CIA work involving nuclear counterproliferation.  I remain passionate about the issue of preventing rogue states and terrorist organizations from ever procuring a nuclear weapon.  Since resigning from the agency however, I realize that much of what I had been doing may only have served to delay the inevitable.  My thinking on proliferation has therefore evolved considerably, and I now believe that the best way to ensure our national security for the long term is to move to achieve the goal of total, global elimination of nuclear weapons.

Recently, I have read with increasing alarm about possible derailment of the Senate ratification of the new START treaty signed by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April. If a handful of U.S. senators succeed in their efforts to block ratification of the New START treaty this year, it could fray hard-earned Russian support for tough sanctions on Iran and disrupt important strategic initiatives with the Russians to secure all nuclear materials globally so they don’t fall into the hands of terrorists.

As a result of my counterproliferation work at the CIA, I believe that nuclear terrorism is the most urgent threat we face and locking down all nuclear materials is a national security imperative.  But without Russia’s cooperation in those goals, an effective international effort may be impossible to achieve. Given these stakes—and the history and the substance of the New START treaty—opposition to it is perplexing. The treaty continues the arms control process begun by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush to reduce U.S. and Russian cold war stockpiles. The first START Treaty, signed by President George H.W. Bush, was approved by the Senate in 1992 by a vote of 93 to 6 (including ‘aye’ votes from eight current Republican senators). The SORT Treaty, signed by President George W. Bush, was completely devoid of any verification provisions and yet was approved 95 to 0 in 2003.

The New START treaty would make modest reductions, cutting both countries’ deployed arsenals by 30 percent, down to 1,500 strategic nuclear weapons each.  It would also reestablish verification measures. Since the START 1 Treaty expired last December, there has been no monitoring on the ground of either arsenal.  New START’s verification measures would be stronger than those under START I: more exchange of data on weapons and 18 on-site inspections annually, including checking warheads on individual missiles by direct inspection, which represents a major improvement over the previous treaty.

Contrary to assertions from some opponents of the treaty, it does not limit U.S. options for establishing missile defense programs. New START is supported by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen; high-ranking members of the Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, H. W. Bush, Clinton, and W. Bush administrations—including such national security experts as George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft; the current commander and seven former commanders of U.S. Strategic Command and the entire current U.S. military leadership.

Admiral Mullen said the treaty "allows us to retain a strong and flexible American nuclear deterrent…. I believe, and the rest of the military leadership in this country believes, that this treaty is essential to our future security…. I hope the Senate will ratify it quickly." Perhaps because it is hard to oppose the treaty on its merits, opponents now argue that there is not enough time in the lame duck session to bring it to a vote. But that ignores the fact that the treaty has already been exhaustively vetted. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted 18 hearings and five briefings and the Obama Administration answered 900 submitted questions during the committee’s process this summer. In September, with a bipartisan vote of 14 to 4, the committee recommended ratification of the treaty.

It would only take two to three days for the Senate to consider and vote on ratification. The START I treaty had five days of Senate floor debate, the SORT treaty two days, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty two days and the Chemical Weapons Convention two days. Given the stakes and urgency for our national security, our Senators should be able to spare two to three days to consider and vote on the New START treaty before they break for the Christmas holiday. Certainly, a ratified new START treaty would be ample reason to celebrate the New Year. 

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