Quaker envoy seeks arms reduction support

Friends lobbyist visits Alaska to drum up backing for ratification

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hearings on a nuclear arms treaty ratification will begin in the United States Senate today, and an advocate of the New START treaty has already been in Alaska seeking support for it.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

A key vote on the treaty ratification may come from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said David Culp, a lobbyist on behalf of the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

The Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers, support reductions of nuclear weapons worldwide.

Culp spoke in Juneau recently, and visited with the Empire as he sought to win support from Murkowski.

While he and other treaty advocates are hoping Murkowski will hear their message, they're also hoping Alaskans will convey their support for the treaty as well.

"She'll be much more receptive to information from people from Alaska," he said.

The New START treaty, which calls for a 30 percent reduction in nuclear weapons from the United States and Russia, was negotiated by the Obama Administration, to replace the expiring START treaty proposed by Ronald Reagan and signed in 1991.

Culp said he's got high hopes for support from the Alaska Delegation, as former Sens. Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski were staunch supporters of arms reduction efforts. Lisa Murkowski is the daughter of Frank, who he appointed to the senate after he won election as Alaska's governor in 2002.

Senate Democrats are expected to support Obama on the treaty, as well as Sen. Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana and a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Culp said.

Murkowski spokesman Michael Brumas said the senator will be watching closely the debate that begins in the foreign relations committee today.

"The senator is no longer on Foreign Relations, but will be studying it closely as it moves through committee," he said.

Murkowski's vote is thought to be critical, Culp said, because a treaty ratification requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. There is no House of Representatives role in the treaty.

Democrats, who hold 57 seats in the 100-member body, need a number of Republicans to vote with them to ratify the treaty.

"That's good, but it's not two-thirds," Culp said.

Culp is worried that the current mood in the country may make some Republicans, especially those facing primary challenges this summer, reluctant to support the nuclear arms reduction treaty.

"We're in the midst of much larger political currents," he said. "There are some people in Washington who think Republican senators should block everything" to undermine Obama.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin has criticized the treaty, but Obama on ABC News said Palin was "not much of an expert on nuclear issues" and said he'd be getting policy advice from the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff instead.

Diminished tension between the United States and Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union have lessened the need for a limitation on the arms race between the two countries, Culp acknowledged.

What is important now is to move toward the next step, a treaty that would limit deployment of tactical, nuclear weapons, he said. Strategic weapons, the land- or submarine-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, aren't as likely to fall into the hands of terrorists as are tactical weapons designed for mobility and battlefield use.

"It's virtually impossible for a terrorist to steal and make off with an ICBM," he said. "The fear is that someone gets their hands on a tactical weapon."

Culp said that the Senate needs to come up with the two-thirds vote necessary for the United States to adopt the treaty's limitations.

"We've got to get this treaty ratified, here and in Russia, to make further progress," he said.

Brumas said that Murkowski has supported ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, another treaty which has had difficulty obtaining the supermajority necessary for ratification.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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