by Stephen Coles, MD, PhD

PSR-LA is delighted that the New START Treaty (New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) between the USA and Russia has finally been ratified today in the “lame duck” US Senate by a vote of 71 to 26, as announced by Vice President Joe Biden serving as President of the Senate. A 2/3rds “super majority” (67) is needed to ratify any treaty, so, after all was said and done, there was a four-Senator margin of victory. Thirteen Republicans voted for ratification, so the vote was largely bipartisan.

I have been riveted to my cable TV for the last six days during the lengthy debate to hear what the opponents might have been saying and deciphering the peculiar senatorial language, like “Without objection… So ordered.” Some of the opposing speeches by various senators brought curses to my lips due to their absurdity, while some of the affirmative speeches brought tears to my eyes due to their eloquence.

The purpose of New START is to reduce the vast U.S. and Russian nuclear-weapons arsenals by about 1/3rd (to no more than 1,550 deployed warheads and 800 delivery vehicles). We thus take a critical step toward increasing international security by setting an example that the two world superpowers — who own almost all of the stockpiled weapons — can move toward our ultimate goal of reducing such weapons to zero. There will soon be US inspectors on the ground in Russia to verify that the called-for reductions take place on schedule and that obsolete weapons will be safely dismantled.

This victory comes on the heels of months of tireless advocacy by PSR and many other allied organizations to garner support for this important international agreement. The treaty will lay the groundwork for further steps to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world, prevent other countries or terrorists from acquiring these dangerous weapons, and thus make the world safer. New START reflects a clear post-Cold War understanding that nuclear weapons are a liability and don’t protect Americans against the most likely threats going forward.

Since the treaty was signed in Prague last April, tens of thousands of citizens and physicians have pressured the Senate to approve it – through phone calls, letter writing, community discussions, scientist statements, letters to the editor, and other advocacy efforts. This campaign has sparked a new national conversation about the role of nuclear weapons in global security and PSR is proud to have played a major role in this effort. The treaty was endorsed by a broad array of present and former government officials. We are hopeful that the passage of the new START treaty will set the proper tone for subsequent treaties on tactical nuclear weapons that were not covered under the scope of the current treaty.