YARMOUTH – During my lifetime, nuclear weapons have served as an effective deterrent to worldwide warfare. Despite the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Iran, and the many deadly armed conflicts in other nations, none of the superpowers has dared to attack any of the others.

It could be argued that the existence of strategically deployed nuclear weapons has been primarily responsible for those restraints, especially when tied with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary this month.

At the same time, those nuclear warheads and their proliferation to new countries around the world pose extreme dangers. In the wrong hands, just one of these weapons could cause unthinkable destruction. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called this “the greatest threat facing the American people.”

Nuclear weapons testing by other nations could also significantly destabilize regions of the world that are critical to our national security. Furthermore, resumed nuclear testing would likely trigger a costly and dangerous global arms race.

The dangers posed by the current situation have led increasing numbers of distinguished Americans to propose eliminating nuclear weapons.

In January 2007, in a column in The Wall Street Journal, former secretaries of state George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, along with former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Sen. Sam Nunn, said, “Reliance on nuclear weapons for (deterrence) is becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.”

They suggested that “ a bipartisan process within the Senate, including understandings to increase confidence and provide for periodic review, to achieve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, taking advantage of recent technical advances, and working to secure ratification by other key states.” The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with Russia will soon come up for ratification in the U.S. Senate. Passing it would be a major step toward global safety.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty will be considered shortly after that, and it should be ratified as well. Signed in the mid-’90s, the CTBT establishes a global system to enforce a ban on testing nuclear weapons. Although then-President George H.W. Bush signed legislation that established a moratorium on U.S. testing of nuclear weapons in 1992, the Senate was not able to obtain the necessary two-thirds to ratify the treaty when it came up for consideration in 1999.

Since that time, there have been many technological advances. Super-computers and the Stockpile Stewardship Program have provided safe and reliable maintenance of the U.S. stockpile of weapons without further actual tests. According to a statement by Vice President Joe Biden on Feb. 18, “The directors of the nuclear laboratories, all of whom I had a chance to meet, tell me and the president and all of us that they have a deeper understanding of our arsenal from stockpile stewardship than they ever had when testing was commonplace.”

More importantly, a system of 254 sensitive monitoring devices around the world has been developed to supplement the capacity of our own U.S. chemical and seismic monitors. This system has been operating for more than a decade and has detected nuclear test explosions in three countries.

As George Schultz said on April 17, 2009, his fellow Republicans “might have been right voting against it some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now, based on these new facts.” Harold Brown, Melvin Laird, William Perry, Colin Powell, and John Shalikashvili have all added their voices to those supporting ratification.

Note that the United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992. We are effectively abiding by the treaty without reaping the benefits that come from a global agreement that would prevent other countries from testing.

Ratification of the START Treaty is at hand, and I am guardedly optimistic that Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will vote to ratify. When the CTBT comes up for ratification shortly thereafter, how will our senators vote?

Clearly the world is very different today, and the technology has vastly changed since the last time it came up for consideration. Let us hope that they vote for these sensible measures.

 

– Special to the Press Herald