In a hopeful sign of growing bipartisan support for nuclear reductions, former military commanders and national security officials announced their support today for quick approval of the New START treaty.
Admiral William Owens, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he is "totally convinced the provisions of New START are in the best interests of our country." He urged the Senate to "take the bipartisan approach, pass the treaty and show the world the leadership they expect from the United States."
"New START is essential," said Lieutenant General Arlen "Dirk" Jameson, former deputy commander-in-chief of the Strategic Command. "Without it we'd be poorly equipped to monitor Russia's arsenal," Gen. Jameson said, and it "allows the US to lead in pursuing greater cooperation with our allies and others" on stopping nuclear terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons to other states.
Owens and Jameson joined former senators Gary Hart (D.-CO) and Chuck Hagel (R.-NE) in a press conference launching the new Consensus for American Security.
The Consensus for American Security is a new initiative of the American Security Project that brings together a broad, bipartisan consensus of former military and national security leaders "who know that American security depends on sound and smart nuclear security policies," says Jim Ludes, executive director of the American Security Project.
"If this treaty should fail in the Senate," said Senator Hagel, "it would be a devastating blow to future efforts in the world to build a new 21st Century framework to deal with risks of nuclear destruction." He added there would be severe consequences for the ability of the United States to lead not just on nuclear issues but on any issue. "There would be ripples around the world," he said. "This would set in motion the disintegration of confidence in the two major nuclear powers."
Senator Hart made an urgent plea that this treaty "should be above politics." Saddened by the partisan acrimony in Washington, he said using the treaty to score political points is "not good, it's not right. This is a matter of ultimate consequence" for America. The Senate must "do what's right."
Gen. Jameson noted that he spent 30 years in the Air Force, much of it dealing with nuclear weapons. "The Cold War was high-risk," he said, "We barely avoided nuclear disaster. We must now develop a 21st Century strategy to deal with the dangers we face today."
Adm. Owens added that he, too, had spent "a lot of [his] life on tours of duty with nuclear weapons." Phoning in from China, he said, "Many nations are looking to America for leadership." New START is an important element of that leadership.
The opening statement by of the 33 high-ranking Consensus members says:
The New START Treaty is a critical and essential first-step. The Consensus demonstrates bipartisan support for efforts to SECURE the world's current nuclear stockpiles, PREVENT terrorists from getting access to nuclear technologies, and REDUCE the spread of nuclear weapons worldwide.
The July 19th conference call was the first in a series advancing the group's efforts to raise awareness about these issues and "to rebuild an enduring bipartisan consensus in the United States about our nation's security."
Members include 15 retired general officers from all four military services. In addition to the four on the conference call, the list includes former Secretary of State George Shultz, Chief Negotiator of the first START agreement Ambassador Richard Burt, Lieutenant General John Castellaw USMC (Ret), Lieutenant General Robert Gard Jr. USA (Ret), Vice Admiral Lee Gunn USN (Ret), Lieutenant General Donald Kerrick USA (Ret), Rear Admiral Rose Levitre USN (Ret), Major General Paul Eaton USA (Ret), General Tony McPeak USAF (Ret), Stanford Physicist Sid Drell, Brookings Institution President Strobe Talbott and two dozen other prominent Americans.
The group statement posted on their web site (www.securityconsensus.org) concludes:
The START Treaty represents the US national interest. It is the only option that allows us to invest in the nuclear security priorities necessary to confront the threats of today and tomorrow. Building on the successes of President Reagan, the Treaty allows us to control old weapons while supporting our forces and the development of advanced capabilities. Without this Treaty, we will not be able to move forward with new strategic issues that are vital to protecting America.
The statesmanship demonstrated by the Consensus members today could help break the partisan blockade in the Senate and restore America's leadership on this urgent security challenge.
Joe Cirincione is a member of The Consensus for American Security
Follow Joe Cirincione on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Cirincione