A new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia known as New START is awaiting ratification by the U.S. Senate. Having been signed by President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April, we heard little about it during the recent mid-term elections. Ratification was expected to be easy during the lame duck session, before the new Congress convenes next year.
On November 16, however, Arizona Sen. John Kyl, the Republican Whip, released a statement saying that he didn't think the treaty could be considered before next year due to the other issues that need consideration. A few days later, ten newly-elected senators wrote a letter asking for treaty consideration to be delayed until they take office next year.
So far only one Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, has promised to vote for ratification. As it takes 67 votes to ratify the treaty, it must have bi-partisan support. The fate of the treaty now hangs by a slender reed.
When nuclear weapons were developed, we failed to take into account the inescapable principle that when you attack another, you attack yourself. The CIA calls it blowback. To win World War II, our government funded private scientific exploration to achieve advances in technology that seemed miraculous, including the development of nuclear bombs capable of instantly torching masses of people. Most who engaged in developing these weapons were motivated by a desire to achieve peace, and saw bigger and better weapons as the means. They were shortsighted, indeed.
Nuclear weapons now present a perpetual threat to the security of Americans. We live in constant fear that non-state actors will obtain nuclear material from some nation's stockpile and kill thousands of Americans with a single small weapon. With their proliferation, we live in fear that one nation will use atomic weapons, then another will follow suit, and perhaps another, in what will be a nuclear holocaust. The weapons Americans invented to promote peace now pose a constant threat to the lives of Americans, as well as many people of diverse nations.
This is but one problem nuclear weapons pose. Their morality is another. We justify our having a huge nuclear arsenal by saying that we would be justified in using them because the people we would use them against would be making us do it. If others were to use nuclear weapons against us, however, that would be immoral.
Wait a minute. How do we justify saying our use of weapons capable of extinguishing large swaths of human life is moral but if others use them it is immoral? We apply a double moral standard that says our use of these weapons is moral because the people we use them against make us do it. Take Japan, for example.
So far, the only time that a nation has deployed nuclear weapons against an enemy was when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki three days later. Within the first few months after the bombings, between 90,000 and166,000 people in Hiroshima had died from the attack and between 60,000 and 80,000 had died in Nagasaki.
About half of these deaths occurred on the first day. People died from being instantly incinerated in the resulting fire, from falling debris, from the effect of burns, from radiation sickness, and other injuries compounded by illness. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians. Merely two bombs did all of that killing and destruction. If this can be seen as moral by blaming the people who were killed for what we did, to what extreme does one have to go to come to an exception to this double standard moral test?
With their proliferation, it is only a matter of time before some leader feels morally justified in again using these terrible weapons. Under present circumstances, it is likely that such an attack will be met with a nuclear counterattack.
Because other nations with nuclear arsenals live by the same double moral standard we live by, their use of atomic bombs would also be justified by blaming those against whom they would be using them. Israel would blame Iran; Iran would blame Israel, and so on. The existence of atomic bombs makes the entire world unsafe.
The only way out of the dilemma is to apply one standard of morality to all nations, including our own: harm to anyone, by anyone, is unacceptable. Therefore, no nation is justified in possessing nuclear weapons.
The ratification of the New START treaty is both an issue of sanity and morality. Please contact your Senators and ask them to do what is moral and sane: vote to ratify the New START treaty.
Also posted on GenuineJustice.com.