Put Security Ahead of Politics

By Chris Miller

As a former U.S. Army nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons specialist I was always skeptical of the assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  After I hit ground in Iraq in April, 2003, it soon became clear he didn’t have any. The U.S. searched the entire country for months trying to find them, but to this day nothing more than a few dusty chlorine gas mortars have ever turned up in Iraq.  What would have happened if Hussein had complied with the IAEA inspection regime voluntarily?  The 2003 Iraq war would likely never have happened.  Because he did not comply, it was open to conjecture whether Iraq possessed nuclear weapons or were trying to acquire them.  The rest is history. 

In view of that, why would we dither, delay, or play politics with a treaty that would allow us to continue a responsible, voluntary inspection regime with a partner state that we know for a fact, with certainty, has nuclear arms, lots of them, and is simply waiting for the U.S. Senate to sign on the dotted line?  Why would we risk significantly setting back relations with Russia and at the same time make it much harder to verify that their nukes are secure?  Ask the Senate GOP leadership.  

The old START (STrategic Arms Reduction Treaty) was negotiated and signed in the early nineties under President George H.W. Bush, based on a concept by President Ronald Reagan.  The treaty served the U.S. well through the era of instability at the end of the Cold War and the New START would simply continue what was already a good idea.  It has served us well for the last two decades and, if passed, would continue to today.  It would reduce nuclear stockpiles by one third on both sides, still leaving America with more than enough firepower to defend itself.  It would responsibly allow mutual transparency and allow us to monitor Russia’s nuclear weapons and material. 

In addition to the original concerns START was designed to address, more modern concerns may be added to the list of reasons New START must be passed now, not later.  Nuclear proliferation is a tremendous concern today, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Reducing stockpiles means less nukes and nuclear material that could fall into the hands of unstable states or groups.  Fewer nuclear weapons, less nuclear material, and better control makes us all safer.  North Korea and Pakistan have already acquired nuclear weapons through the back door and Iran is certainly trying to.  The black-market smuggling ring led by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan shows there is a hot market worldwide for nuclear technology.  For an entire year already America has been unable to account for all of Russia’s nuclear material and there are certainly buyers out there who will stop at nothing to acquire it.  New START would close the loophole.  Not doing so is like crossing our fingers and hoping nothing happens.

Nuclear terrorism is the ultimate threat to United States and its allies.  Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have already stated they are attempting to acquire nuclear weapons.  They’re not alone.  Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Hamas would also jump at the chance.  Hollywood never stops thinking up movie plots involving a nuke smuggled into America.  If they can think of it, so can terrorists and extremists.  For these reasons the U.S. military is also urging the passage of New START.  Keeping nuclear weapons and material out of the hands of terrorists is a top national security priority.  Not signing New START would be reckless and leave us vulnerable to attack.

The Senate Republican leadership opposes passing the treaty because of politics.  They are more concerned with opposing President Obama than they are keeping America safe.  There is bipartisan support for the treaty and it would and certainly should be ratified, if only the GOP leadership would put politics aside and put our security first.  START was entered into between two states that possessed the nuclear arms to ensure they would mutually destroy one another in a nuclear attack.  ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ kept America and the USSR at a standstill.  Today, unstable states and terrorist groups are not so inclined.  Extremists and terrorists are unconcerned about the destruction a nuclear attack would create on both sides and many are already fully prepared to die for their cause. 

GOP opposition to New START is outdated, out of touch, and disastrously dangerous.  The treaty needs to be ratified by the U.S. Senate as soon as possible so that we can jointly and responsibly reduce and monitor nuclear weapons and material, prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism, and put our security first.

Chris Miller is a Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge recipient and eight-year U.S. Army veteran, having served two tours in Baghdad, Iraq.  He is currently a law student and a fellow with the Truman National Security Project.