After a year of negotiations, the U.S. and Russia recently announced they’ve completed a new agreement to reduce the excessive size of our nuclear arsenals in a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The new treaty will be signed April 8 in Prague and its objectives are fairly straightforward: it reduces deployed strategic weapons (i.e., missiles and bombs) from 2,200 to 1,550; it cuts delivery vehicles (bombers, silos, subs) to 800; and it continues the Reagan legacy of “trust but verify” with Moscow.
Strategic nuclear weapons? Missiles? Prague? These aren’t words with a whole lot of relevance in today’s activist crowd—they conjure up icons like Gorbachev, Dr. Strangelove, or maybe Matthew Broderick in War Games. Let’s face it: this is not cutting-edge stuff. Our parents might remember classroom “duck and cover” drills (historical note: plywood desks offer minimal protection against thousands of tons of TNT), the fear of total annihilation, and the threat that one incident or accident could usher in the destruction of every nation. But this was a conflict that had two superpowers pointing thousands of missiles at each other.
What’s really unfortunate is that we may actually have been safer then.
At the height of the Cold War, there were more than 70,000 nuclear weapons in existence, enough to destroy the world many times over. This number has been dramatically reduced by treaties just like the one we’re about to sign. But there are approximately 20,000 nuclear weapons still in existence, 95 percent of which are in the U.S. and Russia.
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger observed of nuclear weapons that “our age has stolen fire from the gods; can we confine it to peaceful purposes before it consumes us?” In our post-Cold War, post-9/11 world, this “fire” is now harder to contain and capable of quickly spreading. For this reason, the United States and Russia are recognizing that reductions to our own arsenals are necessary if we want to have any moral authority in curbing breakout in countries like Iran.
Yet the quiet acknowledgment coming out of the negotiating rooms is that this treaty is really pretty modest. Because it wouldn’t take the thousands of remaining nuclear weapons to ruin the world for which we are called by God to care. Just one bomb would cause tens of thousands of deaths, massive environmental damage and financial suffering worldwide. (Check out the video on the front page of TwoFuturesProject.org for a visual of what this looks like.)
So the new START isn’t a silver bullet for our nuclear problem—but it’s not insignificant, either. The question now is whether or not the Senate will ratify it. There are some positive signs, like Richard Lugar—a Republican Senator and important voice on foreign policy—saying he looks forward to working “quickly to achieve ratification of the treaty.”
Unfortunately, Congress has recently proven itself to be not only inefficient, but also incapable at times of passing meaningful legislation due to a venomous political climate, and crippling partisan gridlock. Senate rules require 67 votes to ratify a treaty, so ratification of START must be bipartisan. The question is whether a handful of outspoken ideologues in the U.S. Senate can derail the treaty. Inaction would not only damage strategic relations between the United States and Russia, it would be a huge step in the wrong direction toward nuclear insecurity.
A lot of people in our generation are suspicious of anything political, and there aren’t many things more political than ratification of a nuclear treaty in the U.S. Senate. But nuclear weapons are not an issue we can afford to ignore. In fact, inaction is itself a choice; it’s like waking up to find out that your house is on fire, and deciding to go back to bed. We believe God calls us to use our “talents” in the service of His kingdom—and whether we like it or not, having a say in the American political process is one of the most significant gifts for which God will hold us responsible. So let’s make sure that in this, as in all things, we’ll act in a way that will be met with the judgment, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Adam Woods is the Campaign Manager of the Two Futures Project, an organization committed to helping American Christians exercise a witness of integrity on the nuclear issue. Follow 2FP on Twitter and Facebook.