Don’t allow politics to stop New START

September 16, 2010

Nuclear treaty is essential to our national security, as defense leaders and experts from both parties attest, but partisan pressure threatens its passage.
By John Castellaw, Special to Viewpoint
Thursday, September 16, 2010

In the coming weeks, an important national security decision faces our U.S. senators — to vote to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). START can stabilize America’s strategic nuclear forces, provide vital intelligence and verification, and bring about a modest but needed reduction in nuclear weapons. It must be ratified.

Yet election-year politics and the deep partisan divide in our nation are threatening to delay, if not derail, ratification of the treaty and make our country less secure.

As a Marine who spent the majority of his career preparing to fight the Soviets during the Cold War years, I can tell you the treaty will make Americans safer. By reducing U.S. and Russian arsenals and reinstating and strengthening the verification procedures that allow U.S. inspectors to keep tabs on Russian nuclear weapons, the treaty increases U.S. national security. Every day that goes by without a new treaty is another day the United States cannot send inspectors to monitor Russian nuclear weapons; we’ve already gone more than 280 days since the old treaty expired in December 2009.

The good news is that our senators are putting the nation’s security above partisan politics and evaluating this treaty on its merits. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee will have the opportunity to vote in support of the New START today when it comes up before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Yet some politicians are urging Corker to play election-year politics and vote against this treaty. As a lifelong Tennessean, a retired professional military officer and a proud American, I want to support Corker in resisting partisan pressures and doing what is right for the nation.

Here’s why: As I said, the New START will make our country safer by implementing a new dedicated verification regime that will permit U.S. inspectors to monitor Russia’s nuclear arsenal. It will allow our own forces to plan and provide resources for the weapons we need for the 21st century. And it will allow us to deal with further proliferation issues and tactical nuclear weapons.

I do not stand alone in my support. The treaty has the unanimous support of our nation’s military leadership, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It’s also not just Democrats who call for ratification. Prominent former security officials from Republican administrations have also testified in support of the treaty, including former secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, former secretaries of State James Baker and Henry Kissinger, and former national security advisers Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley.

In a recent show of bipartisan support, 30 high-level national security experts — Democrats and Republicans alike, including former secretaries of State Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright — published an open letter in support of the treaty.

Still, because there are those who are putting politics ahead of our national security interests, it’s not clear whether the treaty has the 67 votes in the Senate it will need for ratification. Every vote will count.

This is a vital issue where we can’t allow politics to overshadow statesmanship. I urge Corker, who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Lamar Alexander not to be swayed by those who would attempt to put politics before national security. I ask them to heed the advice of our nation’s military leadership and the collective wisdom of security experts from Republican and Democratic administrations and vote to ratify.

I ask all Tennesseans to stand with them in support of START.

After a 36-year career in the Marine Corps, Lt. Gen. John Castellaw retired as the Corps’ deputy commandant for programs and resources. He lives on a family farm in Crockett County, Tenn.