Editorial / San Francisco Chronicle – 2010-07-17 00:51:33
A Treaty to Limit Nukes
Russia Nuke Treaty also Aimed at Rising Powers
SAN FRANCISCO (July 15, 2010) — This summer, possibly as soon as this month, the US Senate can show whether it’s ruled by political gridlock or far-reaching vision when it takes up a nuclear treaty with Russia.
The chamber has the historic duty of passing on the weapons reduction plan signed by President Obama and Russian president Dimitri Medvedev this spring. The deal reduces missile warheads and launch systems such as bombers and submarines.
There’s a wider message as well. In a post-Cold War world, the leading nuclear powers with 90 percent of the weapons need to showcase reductions to convince rising powers to do the same. This treaty is aimed at Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and India along with the familiar Moscow-Washington twosome.
So far the debate is a rerun of dried-out disarmament battles. Republican critics — there aren’t any Democrats of note in opposition — worry about monitoring Russian reductions and giving ground on anti-missile defenses where the United States has a huge advantage. But the treaty calls for strict monitoring and Obama withheld any promises to drop missile defenses.
The treaty, in fact, is a modest one, calculated to nudge the issue forward as far as politics in both capitals will allow. The numbers call for a reduction to 1,500 long-range warheads from 2,200 under present agreements. It still leaves both countries with thousands more warheads and other delivery systems. While Washington hangs on to anti-missile capabilities, Russia will retain short-range tactical warheads, which it prizes.
So why the fuss? Because fall elections loom and a politically vulnerable president is doing the asking. The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty needs 67 votes, meaning at least eight GOP senators must join Democratic ranks.
Signing the new START treaty would push Russia and the United States toward further weapons agreements and lend concrete substance to demands that other nations stop nuclear work. That’s an important message at the pivotal time.
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