With pride, relief and fanfare, President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia announced March 25 that a new arms control treaty — START, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — will be signed in April.
It will then be brought for ratification to the U.S. Senate and the Russian Federal Assembly.
The promised unprecedented cuts are momentous and come after at least a year of painstaking negotiations by this administration and built on years and years of previous disarmament efforts by non-governmental agencies and others.
Six of us from Colorado who are anti-nuclear activists are part of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a national network of three dozen grassroots and national groups.
The ANA members represent the concerns of communities near U.S. nuclear weapons sites that are directly affected by 65 years of nuclear weapons production and waste contamination. The ANA includes those of us in the vicinity of Rocky Flats (eight miles from Boulder), where every plutonium trigger in the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal was made during 40 years of mass production.
We recently returned from Washington, D.C., where we lobbied both Colorado House and Senate offices and worked hard to encourage Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet to ratify the new treaty when they have the opportunity.
Even though the ANA supports deeper reductions in the nuclear stockpile, we applaud this accomplishment and see it as a positive step for U.S. nuclear policy and think that it will reinvigorate the international effort to eliminate the threat posed by these weapons.
However, according to the New York Times on March 30, huge U.S. B-52 bombers can carry all at once: 14 air-launched cruise missiles, four B61 gravity bombs and two B83 gravity bombs — and that whole array counts as just one weapon. If Russia has corresponding bombers, is it a shell game in which one or both countries can manipulate numbers of weapons?
The tricky problem is how on Earth to count warheads. The treaty will count the actual number of warheads deployed on land- and sea-based ballistic missiles, i.e. the 49 nuclear missiles stored in underground silos in eastern Colorado. It will count each heavy bomber as a single warhead, even though they can carry far more.
“It’s nuts,” said Hans M. Kristensen, an expert at the Federation of American Scientists, in the New York Times. “It’s totally nuts.”
Although the United States now has about 2,100 deployed strategic warheads, about 450 would not be counted, Kristensen estimated. Similarly, 860 of Russia’s 2,600 warheads would not count. To meet the treaty limit, he said the United States would need to cut just 100 warheads and Russia just 190.
Hopefully, the strict verification procedures and the momentum begun by this remarkable treaty — flaws and all — will carry the world toward Obama’s Prague dream of a world without nuclear weapons.
Judith Mohling is a member of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.