FALMOUTH – For a period of 15 years, U.S. weapons officials regularly traveled to the Soviet Union, which then became Russia, to inspect its strategic nuclear forces under the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START.

Those inspections provided us with important data and established sound working relationships between U.S. and Russian officials. This in turn helped stabilize the balance of power between these two giant nuclear nations.

But the START Treaty expired last December, and the United States lost its ability to conduct inspections inside the Russian Federation. The New START Treaty, which may come to the Senate floor for a vote this month, will restore crucial on-site inspection and verification.

Nuclear arms reduction is highly significant, as it demonstrates a commitment by these nations, which have approximately 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, to make progress in reducing the global nuclear danger and works toward nuclear disarmament.

IT HAS SUPPORT

Many in Maine support this treaty. This fall, the Maine Medical Association passed a resolution highlighting the potential for devastating human health consequences posed by the detonation of any nuclear weapon. The MMA resolution refers to the importance of New START and calls on Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to vote for ratification.

The significance of prevention is the foundation of the MMA resolution. Health concerns from even small nuclear explosions are grave and could occur on a scale far beyond the ability of the medical community and the public health infrastructure to respond adequately.

Therefore, the only method to adequately safeguard the health of those in Maine and around the world is to negotiate treaties that reduce the number of these weapons and establish strong verification protocols. The MMA members believe New START helps to accomplish these goals.

New START takes an important step towards protecting health by limiting the United States and Russia to significantly fewer strategic arms within seven years from the date the treaty enters into force. On Sept. 16, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations voted to approve the treaty with bipartisan support.

REDUCES NUMBERS

New START will reduce both sides’ deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 and strategic delivery systems to 800 deployed and non-deployed (such as submarines in overhaul).

The warhead limit is 30 percent lower than the 2,200 limit of the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty.

The treaty has a strong verification regime that combines the appropriate elements of the 1991 START Treaty with new elements tailored to the limitations of New START. Measures under the treaty include on-site inspections; data exchanges and notifications; unique identifiers on all ICBMs, SLBMs and heavy bombers; and provisions for the use of national technical means for treaty monitoring.

The treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs or current or planned U.S. long-range conventional strike capabilities or modernization.

Finally, the New START Treaty enjoys the bipartisan support of many former and current key administration and military officials, including former Maine senator and secretary of defense William Cohen.

The Resolution for New START ratification must be approved by at least 67 senators. If New START is not approved now, many years could pass during which we have no means to verify the extent of Russian nuclear weapons capabilities.