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William Hartung

William Hartung

Posted: March 23, 2010 12:48 PM

How Health Care Can Boost Arms Control

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My colleague Heather Hurburt has posted an interesting piece at Democracy Arsenal discussing the potential impacts of the health care vote on President Obama's national security agenda.

Of particular interest to me is the question of how the president's health care victory can help him build momentum for the upcoming fight over ratification of a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction agreement (new START, for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty). This agreement can be a building block for other items on the president's nuclear arms control agenda, such as his pledge to seek Senate ratification of a global ban on all nuclear weapons testing (the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty). The new START accord will likely call for cuts of one-quarter to one-third in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals -- a significant first step by the two nations that now control about 95% of the world's more than 20,000 strategic nuclear weapons. Getting two-thirds of this particular Senate to agree on anything is a tough task, but with potential support from key Republicans like Indiana Senator Richard Lugar it can certainly be done, especially on an issue where major Republican figures like former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger have endorsed going much further, towards the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

But in the face of a chorus of anti-arms control ideologues like former UN Ambassador John Bolton and Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the president will need all the support he can get, particularly from influential constituents in states of Republican senators most likely to be persuaded to support START, and eventually, a test ban as well. To the extent that the President's health care victory shows that he will persevere in pursuit of major policy objectives, it could carry over into his pursuit of major nuclear arms reductions. But he will need our help, particularly those of us who have connections in key states. A few of the key groups engaged in this effort are the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Arms Control Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility.