“Hysterical” would also have been an appropriate heading for this post. It seems that Duane Shanks, the “senior policy advisor” of Sojourners, believes that failure to pass the START treaty now before the Senate will mean The End of the World As We Know It–and he’s not feeling fine about that:
In just the past few days, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have reiterated the moral case for the New START treaty as “a modest step toward a world with greater respect for human life.” The secretaries of state for the past five Republican presidents have reiterated the national security case for “an agreement that is clearly in our national interest.” And Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that if the treaty is held up, Russia will “have to react” and may increase the number of its nuclear weapons rather than reducing them.
The argument from authority, which is trunmpeted ad nauseum by treaty supporters including Sojourners, doesn’t really answer the question of whether the treaty is, in fact, in the best interests of the United States, though it may well be. As for Putin, that line cracked me up. The fact is that the treaty places a limit on Russian nuclear weapons that is higher than what is currently in their arsenal. That means that even if the treaty is passed, Moscow can increase the number of weapons it has, and is under no compulsion whatsoever to reduce them (that burden belongs strictly to the United States). So Putin’s “threat” is meaningless, except to American leftists who don’t know the facts, and so are easily alarmed.
And the Republican response? All 42 Senate Republicans signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid vowing to block any legislation except extending the Bush tax cuts and financing government operations.
There’s a reason for that vow, of course: START could just as easily be passed in January or February, whereas the government will shut down in a matter of days if nothing is done, and the tax cuts will expire on January 1 if nothing is done. So the GOP senators said that those two items have to be dealt with first, and then other business. Shanks’ paragraph–which says that Senate Republicans won’t deal with any other legislation under any circumstances–is simply incorrect: The New York Times article Shanks links to says “until,” a word that Sojourners spelling checkers must reject.
This “if you don’t play my way then I won’t play” attitude is now threatening the future of the world. Taking another step toward reducing the number of nuclear weapons is too important for partisan games. [Emphasis added.]
And here Chicken Little goes into full falling sky mode. This despite the fact that U.S.-Russia nuclear armaments are hardly the most pressing nuclear issue facing the world, and haven’t been since the fall of the Soviet Union. Sure, there’s still the worry that a Russian nuke could fall into the hands of terrorists, but there’s nothing in the START treaty that would prevent that from happening except, possibly, the verification regime, and that’s something that could have been renewed without any of the other provisions, which are if not irrelevant to the nuclear issue facing the world, then way down the list of what’s really important–like, say, dealing with Iran and North Korea in forms that amount to more than just “real pressures and effective incentives,” whatever that means.
I don’t have any strong feelings about this treaty one way or the other, as a citizen with a long-standing interest in defense and specifically nuclear matters (if you want to see how long-standing, check out Baylor University’s Perspectives in Religious Studies, Summer 1985 and my article “Nuclear Weapons in the Ethics of Reinhold Niebuhr”–if you can’t get it from Baylor, let me know, and I’ll send you a copy). There is both good and bad in it, from both American and Russian perspectives. I don’t think that grave harm will be done to American defenses if it is passed, though there are some provisions that I’d like to see changed, if that were possible. In any case, however, the failure to pass this doesn’t mean the end of the world, any more than failure to pass the Kyoto Treaty (phew, that was a bullet dodged) meant the end of the world. If the people at Sojourners want to be taken seriously as players in Washington’s public policy debates–and I know they do–they would do well to dial back the apocalyptic rhetoric, and instead concentrate on dealing with reality.