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Ratifying a New START: the Games Begin

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The new nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia -- known as the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START -- was signed by President Obama and Russian Prime Minister Medvedyev earlier this month, on April 8th. The next step is seeking ratification in the Senate, which requires a two-thirds majority -- 67 votes. This is difficult but eminently doable. One step towards doing so is to clear out the pesky underbrush generated by a series of distorted right-wing arguments regarding the treaty.

Perhaps the most extreme claim, which has been repeated by a number of anti-arms control ideologues, is that approving START is tantamount to "unilaterally disarming." This argument is so absurd that it's hard to believe that anyone would make it, even staunch opponents of a New START agreement. The accord leaves each side with 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads -- more than enough to obliterate each side many times over. Or, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it at an October 2009 speech, "We and Russia deploy far more nuclear weapons than we need or could ever potentially use without destroying our ways life... The nuclear weapons status quo is neither desirable nor sustainable. It gives other countries the motivation or excuse to pursue their own nuclear options"

So much for "unilaterally disarming." The real question is how to get to the levels set out in the new treaty and then move lower, both in the U.S. and Russian arsenals and then eventually on the part of other nations. This will require refuting a series of other right-wing distortions regarding the implications of New START to clear the way for those further reductions. I will deal with those other arguments, which include concerns about constraints on U.S. missile defense programs and the allegedly decrepit state of existing U.S. nuclear warheads themselves, in a series of future posts.