Very often, the way you respond to a problem depends on where you sit and how you view it. As a child, my parents taught me the value of a “bird’s eye view.” As an activist working in the trenches of the 1960s civil rights movement, I learned about building a movement from the ground up. Today as an elected official, I try to approach issues with a big-picture view to make the best decisions for my neighbors and the state.
I have served in the General Assembly now for nearly 25 years, first as a representative and now as a senator. Thousands of bills and issues have passed across my desk. I’ve cast countless votes and have been in countless meetings, from the neighborhood up to the White House. I’ve seen enough, done enough, and know enough to understand that right now our nation is at a “this is it” moment – when elected leadership must act.
But it’s not up to me. It’s up to our U.S. senators to move a vote on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).
Why does this state senator care? Because our nation’s security hangs in the balance. We need New START to ramp down the danger of nuclear weapons and to seek productive solutions to global insecurity.
I’m proud to say that hundreds of state elected officials, legislators, governors and members of Congress do care. Calls, e-mails and faxes from across the nation are landing in Washington as state and local leaders and our constituents express astonishment that a handful of U.S. senators have been stalling the floor debate on New START.
Stalling a critically important treaty vote should be anathema to any elected official. This treaty is imperative to the security of U.S. citizens and citizens of the world. When elected officials have the power to act on such historic measures, why would they hesitate?
New START would replace the nuclear inspection pact that has been in place between the U.S. and Russia for 15 years which expired one year ago.
There has been extensive testimony to the Senate from national leaders from both parties and countless experts. After 20 hearings over several months, the Senate committee, with a bi-partisan vote, moved New START out of committee with an “ought to pass” in September. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican of long standing, voted for it in committee. In the heat of much pre-election partisanship, Sen. Isakson put aside political posturing, saying “it is the right thing to do.”
More and more Republicans have stepped up to the plate in support. Yet, there are those still saying they need more time. Why?
The treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed delivery vehicles will reduce the Russian nuclear threat, while allowing us to maintain a robust and modern nuclear triad. It would establish an updated information exchange system and enhanced on-site inspections that would provide more information on the status of Russian strategic forces than was available under the original START accord.
New START is unanimously supported by our military leadership and backed by five former secretaries of defense, six former secretaries of state, and seven former heads of the military nuclear command. If that’s not enough affirmation, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently added her support, as did George H.W. Bush. This distinguished and extensive list of supporters not only endorses the treaty, but wants it voted on now. What more assurance is needed?
National security has always ranked as a top priority for elected officials and citizens. There is no concern bearing a greater sense of urgency for policymakers. This is a post-election session for the U.S. Senate and the best time for those most steeped in the issue to take up this debate. Waiting for a new Senate with their new agenda and without the depth of knowledge on this issue is putting off a core security responsibility. It’s a responsibility our senators owe to their own constituents and to the nation.
Voting to ratify New START is the only way to end the nuclear “verification gap” that has emerged since START1 expired last year. This vote would say to our citizens that our Senators can lay aside partisanship and political games and vote for the best interests of our nation’s security.
Orrock is a Georgia state senator, D-District 36, from the Atlanta area.