As the Senate begins its debate on the New Strategic Arms Treaty (START), they need to ask themselves the question - do we want to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb that could someday be used to attack Israel or other U.S. allies? Because that is the situation Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans could create by threatening to hold up Senate ratification of the New START.
The New START treaty is a major step forward by the United States and Russia in meeting their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and will serve as a key bridge toward reaching the ultimate goal of a nuclear weapon-free world. By reducing the size of the nuclear arsenals held by weapons states like the U.S. and Russia, the treaty sends a strong signal to the world that those nations that currently have 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons are seriously committed to the goal of arms reductions.
When President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START in April, they set the stage for the two countries to reduce their arsenal of deployed nuclear weapons to their lowest level since the 1950's. If ratified, the treaty would also give us more information on the status of Russian strategic forces than was available under the original START accord, which expired last year. But until the Senate ratifies the agreement, we will continue the strategic blackout that grants us no ability to make on-the-ground observations of Russia's arsenal. These observations are critical to keeping Russia's nuclear weapons secure from al-Qaeda or other terrorists who wish to buy them and use them against the U.S. and our allies.
The Treaty also sends a strong and immediate message to Iran that the U.S. and Russia are willing and able to partner with one another to reduce the threat of nuclear war. The Treaty raises the prospect that this U.S.-Russian partnership could be extended to cooperation in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.
But delay in ratifying New START will create a situation in which Iran can avoid the joint pressure of a U.S.-Russia partnership. If we ask the United Nations Security Council to take action on North Korea, will Russia fully support us? If Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities or scientists, will Russia help our efforts to defuse the situation? We can expect less support from Russia if, after Russia has agreed to this binding treaty, we fail to do so.
Do Senate Republicans really want to block such a partnership for peace?
Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed New START in April, but like all international treaties, it can only go into effect if 67 Senators ratify it. Sen. Kyl, who is leading a group of Republicans in the Senate to block New START, will achieve only a false "victory" against President Obama's efforts to make our country secure. But in doing so he will achieve a genuine victory for the nuclear weapons program of Iran and other hostile states. Who do Senate Republicans want thanking them this holiday season? The American people, for making us safer? Or Iranian President Ahmadinejad, for making it easier to obtain nuclear weapons?
For all of these reasons, ratifying New START is a no-brainer, according to our nation's military and intelligence leadership and prominent former senior national security officials from past Republican and Democratic administrations, including Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker III and General Brent Scowcroft. They support it because it will make the U.S. and our allies safer. Now it's time for Senate Republicans to stand up for our national security, and for a strong U.S.-Russian partnership to block an Iranian nuclear bomb. They can do so by ratifying New START without any further delay.
Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), founder and co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation, last week led a letter, cosigned by 34 of his colleagues in the House of Representatives, calling on the Senate to vote on ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty before the close of the 111th Congress.
Follow Sen. Ed Markey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenMarkey