After 65 years, is there anything new to say about nuclear weapons?
Their immense and almost incomprehensible destructive power is well
known. Their tenacious endurance as the weapon, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, is an unavoidable fact as nine nations
currently stockpile these world menacers. Their superpower allure to
emerging states remains untarnished despite international treaties
discouraging proliferation.

This year, on the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima - an act that incinerated more than 70,000 in an instant - the U.S. ambassador to Japan attended a memorial ceremony
for the very first time. Ambassador John Roos laid a wreath during the
ceremony but did not make a speech or issue a statement. Most notably to
the thousands who attended, he did not apologize on behalf of the
United States.

Nuclear weapons are once again in the news, not because of something
that happened sixty-five years ago this August, but because of what may
happen in the Senate in the next month: ratification of the START
treaty. But the two events are intimately related.


In April, President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart President Dmitry Medvedev signed what is known as New START,
the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which will cut the number of
long-range nuclear warheads that each side has to about 1,550 nuclear
warheads each. The agreement was the culmination of more than a year of
negotiations and replaces a Reagan-era treaty. It will need to be
ratified in the Senate where a vote could happen as early as September.
As with any treaty, a two-thirds majority is required for ratification.

Senate Republicans have signaled a tough fight
for the seven or eight votes they may deign to give. Some are holdovers
from the George W. Bush era of "peace through strength, not through
paper" who view any treaty as an unforgivable compromise. Others are
bargain-hunters, seeking to wring major concessions from the
administration in exchange for their votes.

Already Obama has conceded on this point, assuring the Republicans
that they can expect tens of billions of dollars of new investment in
the nuclear weapons complex. The exact number (so far) is $80 billion
over the next decade, but to some that is not enough. Senate minority
whip Jon Kyl
from Arizona, where a number of nuclear facilities are located, is
pushing for at least $10 billion more. These funds will go to upgrades
at facilities within the nuclear weapons complex and to sophisticated
programs aimed at refurbishing and improving the function of the nuclear
weapons currently in the stockpile.

The Price of Arms Control

Against the backdrop of Obama's pledge
to "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,"
the nuclear modernization program is a steep price to pay for a treaty.
At the very least, it is a one-step-forward-two-steps-back dance routine
that commits the United States to the forward movement of nuclear
reductions while also taking us back by investing scarce resources into
improving the weapons that we hope to one day eliminate.

Even with all of this horse-trading, ratification is not a fait accompli. Numerous arms control groups in Washington are feverishly working to ensure that the treaty becomes law. At the same time, the Heritage Foundation
and other right-leaning outfits churn out a steady diet of
disinformation about the treaty and its ramifications. The two sides
tirelessly argue with one another over the finer points of verification mechanisms, the true meaning of the (non-binding) preamble, and whether or not the treaty bars
the United States from pursuing missile defense technologies. These
arguments are important, and I hope that the treaty proponents win in
the end. The facts are certainly on their side.

But, in this month that we remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that we
mourn the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people killed in those two
atomic bombings, I would much prefer to be listening to other voices:
the voices of the Hibakusha. These are the men and women
who witnessed the mushroom clouds, who saw their world destroyed in an
instant, who endured a lifetime of physical agony from their wounds and
unending mental anguish because of what they experienced. They are not
lost in the weeds of complicated treaties. They speak a simple message we all must hear and respond to - never again, no more nuclear weapons, disarmament now.

If Ambassador John Roos had listened in Hiroshima last week, that is
what he would have heard. That is what men and women on both sides of
the aisle in the Senate should hear as they prepare to cast their vote
on New START. That is what Obama, Kyl, and staffers at Heritage should
all hear.

New START is just the beginning of the work for nuclear disarmament.
And it is work that is 65 years overdue. So delay is not an option.

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