Women. Power. Peace.

Ratify disarmament treaty this year

By Robert B. Farquhar

7:04 p.m. Tuesday, November 16, 2010As a 24-year veteran of the United States Air Force, I often find myself reflecting on the oath I took when joining the service as a young man. The oath, as every veteran knows, is to the defense of the nation and to the chain of command, irrespective of any political considerations.

In this light, I’d ask my fellow Georgians to consider an issue that received comparatively little attention during our recent contentious election: the New START Treaty, an agreement that has the overwhelming support of our Pentagon leadership.

When the Senate first took up the issue, Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote that the treaty has the “unanimous support of the U.S. military.” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, testified in support of the treaty, as did Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. The commander of our nuclear forces, Gen. Kevin Chilton, testified in support, and he was joined by seven of the last eight living commanders of our nuclear forces, who jointly wrote to the Senate urging them to ratify the treaty.

But right now, it is in danger of being derailed by politics and partisan maneuvering. Some opponents want to kill the treaty outright, while others want to put off consideration until next year. Both of these possibilities are in direct contradiction to the best advice of our military commanders.

On the day after the election, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told the press, “This treaty is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal, our knowledge of Russian nuclear capabilities and U.S. national security overall. We’re advancing it at this time and pushing for ratification because we need this. And we need it sooner, rather than later. There’s no sense in putting off what we need now to the next Congress.”

The Pentagon wants the treaty ratified this year, not least because it would restore our ability to conduct on-site inspections of the Russian nuclear arsenal. Those inspections were suspended when the START I Treaty expired. They were meant to be renewed by the ratification of New START. But since Dec. 5, 2009 — over 330 days now — the United States has had no means of verifying Russian nuclear weapons and fissile material stockpiles. This goes against President Ronald Reagan’s admonition, “Trust, but verify,” and leaves the U.S. blind to Russian nuclear weapons activities after two decades of open inspections and regular cooperation.

In order to take force, New START requires ratification by the U.S. Senate. It is the right step to take — without delay. Unfortunately, New START has languished in the Senate awaiting ratification in spite of the fact that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved it by a 14-4 vote on Sept. 16.

To his great credit, my Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson had the foresight to recognize that New START provides a more secure, safer world for our families and nation. He voted to support ratification in committee. I hope that my other Georgia senator — Sen. Saxby Chambliss — will also see the wisdom of ratifying New START and do his part to ensure a vote before year’s end.

On a personal level, as a retired Air Force senior noncommissioned officer who served our nation for over 24 years, I don’t take lightly the responsibilities of our military and elected leaders when the safety and security of my family and our nation is at stake, particularly when dealing with nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, I was trained as a nuclear fallout shelter manager. I studied the effects of nuclear warfare and I came to realize the absolute horror that would accompany even a single nuclear detonation. It was enough to convince me that everything in our power needed to be done to prevent it from ever happening, anywhere.

As a former Cold War warrior, my view is that when senior military leaders all agree something needs to be done to secure our nation, it needs to be done.

Robert B. Farquhar, a retired Air Force master sergeant, lives in Bonaire.


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