The day before presidential ink was put to paper on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, former-Gov. Sarah Palin took to the Fox News airwaves to ridicule the leadership of President Obama. She compared him to a kid on a playground full of children getting ready to fight who says, "Go ahead, punch me in the face, I'm not going to retaliate." Not only has she misrepresented the facts, she's clearly on the wrong side of history.
Reducing our nuclear weapons inventory has never been the kind of ugly partisan fight that Palin seeks to provoke. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan initiated the first START negotiations with the now defunct Soviet Union. President George Bush signed the treaty in 1991. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski, both Alaskan Republicans, were among the 93 U.S. Senators who voted to ratify it.
President Obama is also honoring the disarmament provisions of the "Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons" (NPT) which the U.S. Senate voted 83-15 to ratify in 1969. Under this treaty, America agreed "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race ... to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." It is our nation's moral credibility that's on the line at a time when we're insisting that Iran cease its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
America's buildup of these weapons of mass destruction may have occurred during the Cold War, but the nuclear arms race began with the development of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Manhattan Project was rushed into motion by President Franklin Roosevelt because his administration feared that Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime also was building an atomic bomb.
After the war, the Soviet Union feared American dominance and produced their first atomic weapon in 1949. By 1960, the British and French joined the nuclear club. China became the fifth member in 1964.
It's worth noting that the first five nuclear nations were all countries brought into World War II by enemy invasion or aerial bombing. The sixth was India, who had been at war with China in 1962 and refused to sign the NTP. They acquired nuclear capability in 1974.
Fear of international adversaries was a catalyst for the arms race. It's the likely reason that Israel, Pakistan and North Korea built nuclear weapons, and why Iran may be developing them right now. As long as nuclear-armed nations refuse to disarm, the NTP isn't going to be effective.
Ukraine is an exception worth studying. They not only gave up their nuclear arsenal and signed the NPT, they also signed the 'Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe' and reduced its inventory of tanks, artillery and armored vehicles. They are a model the rest of the world should follow.
The truth is that the New START doesn't go very far in reducing the weapons stockpile spread across the American and Russian landscapes. Both nations will continue to deploy up to 1,500 nuclear warheads and hold thousands more in storage. That's still enough to destroy the entire world many times over.
And Obama's Nuclear Posture Review doesn't state the U.S. won't retaliate with nuclear weapons, but rather qualifies our intent to restrain their use. To suggest this is a sign of weakness as Palin has done is patently absurd.
Furthermore, restraint when threatened is a form of courage and strength. And leadership isn't about possessing the power to coerce others to follow. America must learn to inspire trust from our adversaries rather than provoke fear and resistance. Such ideas may seem naïve, but history is replete with proof that strength through weaponry only produces more weapons and wars.
Fortunately, ratification of this treaty is the responsibility of the U.S. Senate, not the playground of entertainment-like foreign policy commentators. We should expect every senator, Democrat and Republican, to seriously examine the treaty's factual terms. They should seek to understand why their predecessors set aside partisan politics to ratify treaties intended to reverse the madness of the nuclear arms race. For the sake of their grandchildren's children and ours, we must all aspire to create a world without nuclear weapons.
Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident.
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