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New START vs. the Tea Party: What's the Greatest Threat?

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What's more dangerous: the thousands of nukes that will still target U.S. and Russian cities if the New START treaty is not ratified OR the opportunistic, Tea Party pandering politicians who would derail this commonsense agreement?

If you answered "the nukes", you're wrong.

New START will reduce the global inventory of strategic nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert to levels not seen since I was born in 1954. But these weapons are not nearly as dangerous as the obstructive "Cold War" messaging that treaty opponents are deploying to upset New START's ratification.

Seven former commanders of the Strategic Air Command and the U.S. Strategic Command who recently endorsed the pact said, "There is little concern today about the probability of a Russian nuclear attack." The terrorist bomb that takes out Washington or New York will most likely come in a shipping container rather than an ICBM.

The utility of New START is that it makes the world more predictable. It replaces the START treaty originally negotiated by President Reagan that expired last December. Like its predecessor, New START not only reduces the number of warheads, it assures that both nations "trust but verify" each other's compliance with the terms of the treaty. Ratification will send a strong message that the U.S. is seriously pursuing its nuclear disarmament obligations, giving it more credibility to demand that nations like Iran and North Korea not build nuclear weapons.

New START is on track for approval. A huge list of Republican and Democratic policymakers, including five former defense secretaries and six former secretaries of state are pushing for ratification. But a gang of right wing politicos will try to use the August congressional recess to blame, frame and fundraise New START into oblivion.

Operatives including Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, the Heritage Foundation, and even the Tea Party's "Liberty Central" are launching misinformation campaigns to kill the treaty. This is part of an isolationist strategy that should be considered a greater long-term threat to our nation's security then the warheads that New START will eliminate. Their core belief is best expressed by the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly who, in her rant against New START said, "We live in a dangerous world in which bad guys respect strength and weapons, and disdain weakness and disarmament."

But in fact, ratification of any treaty and participation in international organizations sends a message of cooperation, partnership, and a desire for clear rules and a level playing field. In a recent interview Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a hard-nosed realist, said "it's amazing how much trust matters in relationships, whether it's with governments or with individuals around the world." It's only human nature to prefer to do business with those we like and respect. The United States is stronger when perceived as a friend.

Unfortunately, a growing chorus of ultra-nationalist voices is spreading disinformation and fear when it comes to all things multilateral. Tea Party candidates, like former NFL star Clint Didier, know what their audience wants to hear, "We need to get out of the U.N. and to get the U.N. out of the United States" because, "they are out to take our guns and repeal American sovereignty." This sentiment is shared by Nevada's Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle who wants the U.S. to sever all ties with the United Nations.

Voices of fear are fanning xenophobic passions that threaten our nation's values, aspirations, and our ability to thrive in a connected world. Like the proverbial genie, globalization cannot be put back in the bottle. America cannot close its borders, nor can it afford to ignore the international community. Childlike temper tantrums will not make the world go away.

Ratification of New START is essential to the U.S. for a variety of reasons. Not only will it provide greater security by reducing the threat of nuclear annihilation, but it is also a valuable opportunity for internationalist adults -- Democratic and Republican, liberal and conservative - to retake control of our foreign policy. It is time to advance the cooperative international institutions, laws, and norms that enhance U.S. security and promote democratic values.

Yes, the nuclear weapons that New START addresses present a clear risk to our nation. But the vocal cadres who will do anything to block the ratification of all international agreements present an even graver threat: At stake is our ability to enshrine our beliefs and values in the growing web of agreements that are the legal bedrock of this world.