[A-List] Jonathan Schell U.S.-Russia "Nuclear Standoff" irrational

Todd Boyle toddfboyle at gmail.com
Tue Dec 21 15:36:21 MST 2010


As Dems Work to Ratify New START Treaty, Jonathan Schell Says
U.S.-Russia "Nuclear Standoff" Defies "Rational Explanation"
http://www.democracynow.org/2010/12/21/as_dems_work_to_ratify_start

AMY GOODMAN: The White House is predicting 
victory in its long-running standoff with 
Republicans on a nuclear arms reduction treaty 
with Russia. The New Strategic Arms Reduction 
Treaty, or New START, calls for the United States 
and Russia to cut their deployed arsenals to 
1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 missile silos and 
bombers each. Republicans have stalled the 
proposal since it was reached earlier this year, 
in a bid to seek more nuclear funding and 
maintain support for the so-called "missile 
defense" program. But with Congress preparing to 
adjourn for the year, Democrats say they’ve 
earned enough Republican support to ensure Senate passage.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Robert 
Gibbs said a vote is long overdue.

     PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: START is going 
to be voted on before Congress leaves town. And 
this is a treaty that has—that was negotiated 
over the course of many months, signed in April 
in Prague by the two presidents, and up for 
review and inspection since then—not to mention 
the debate that has been had on the floor exceeds 
the time of debate for many treaties in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: Seven Republican senators have said 
they’ll back the measure, leaving Democrats two 
votes shy of an assured victory. On Monday, 
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he 
would continue to oppose the treaty.

     SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: A decision of this 
magnitude should not be decided under the 
pressure of a deadline. The American people don’t 
want us to squeeze our most important work into 
the final days of a session; they want us to take 
the time we need to make informed and responsible decisions.

AMY GOODMAN: McConnell has led calls to delay the 
vote until Republicans boost their standing in 
the Senate next month. In a response on the 
Senate floor, Democratic Senator John Kerry blasted Republican opposition.

     SEN. JOHN KERRY: The American people voted 
for us to stop the politics. They voted for us to 
act like adults and do the business of this 
country. And I believe voting on this treaty in 
these next hours and days is our opportunity to 
live up to the hopes of the American people.

AMY GOODMAN: A Senate vote could come as early as today.

For more, we’re joined by the veteran journalist 
Jonathan Schell, leading advocate for nuclear 
disarmament, Doris Shaffer Fellow at the Nation 
Institute, author of several books—his most 
recent, The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jonathan Schell. 
Explain what this New START treaty is.

JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, it’s sort of 
garden-variety, moderate, sensible, minimal arms 
control. I think of it as arms control 
maintenance. It does basically two things that 
have been going on for the last 30 years or 40 
years, really since Richard Nixon inaugurated 
arms control in 1972. And that is, it shaves the 
arsenals a little bit, a couple of hundred 
warheads, also reduces the number of delivery 
vehicles that are allowed. And maybe more 
important than that, it reintroduces inspections, 
which have lapsed with the lapse of the START 
treaty, the old START treaty. So this is what’s 
been going on for 40 years in arms control, and 
it pushes it along in a kind of minimal way. It’s 
a little bit like paying the mortgage on your 
house. You know, if you pay your mortgage, it’s 
not a big deal. But if you don’t, the 
consequences could be pretty dire. And that’s 
pretty much the way I look at this.

AMY GOODMAN: What are those consequences?

JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, the consequences of not 
passing the treaty really would reverberate 
throughout the entire nuclear regime. And by 
"nuclear regime," I mean the Nuclear 
Non-Proliferation Treaty, I mean various 
disarmament efforts around the world, because 
those things are really intimately linked. It’s 
like one net. It’s like one web. And you pull one 
strand, and it has an effect over on the other 
side. And in this case, it would really pull the 
linchpin out of that system, because if the U.S. 
and Russia renege on their obligations under the 
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to proceed with 
disarmament, it sends a signal out to the rest of 
the world that we’re going to be living in a 
nuclear-armed world, and proliferation begins to 
step up. It really undercuts nonproliferation efforts across the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain why the Republicans are opposed to this.

JONATHAN SCHELL: You know, one reason obviously 
is politics. We’ve heard from Mitch McConnell 
that the most important thing for him is 
defeating Obama in the next presidential 
election. So that’s from his own mouth. But I 
think that they—traditionally, they’re sort 
of—stock and trade, has been accusing Democrats 
of weakness on this or that. And I think that 
they hope to make political hay in that way. And 
also, very simply and tactically, they will have 
more Republican senators when the new Senate 
convenes next year. And I think they might hope 
to actually stop the—have a better chance of 
stopping the treaty altogether for those reasons, 
or else to demand a higher price for passing it. 
Already, the price for passing that they’ve exacted has been very high.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you step back and explain why we 
have the same relationship with Russia that we’ve 
had for decades? Explain what it is and what you’d like to see.

JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, this is really the deeper 
question, because here we are—you know, it’s 
1989, 1991, the Cold War ends. Let’s remember why 
these arsenals were built. They were built for 
Cold War purposes. And when the Cold War ended, 
their raison d’être, their political raison 
d’être, really disappeared. And so, in a certain 
sense, it’s really fantastical that the United 
States and Russia are still aiming 1,550 or 2,000 
strategic warheads at one another. What is that 
all about politically? It really defies rational 
explanation. And so, what you really have to ask 
yourself is why is it, so long after the end of 
the Cold War, that the momentum or inertia, or 
whatever you want to call it, of this nuclear 
standoff, this mutual assured destruction 
relationship, persists and we can’t really unravel it in a more radical way?

AMY GOODMAN: What do weapons manufacturers have to do with this?

JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, obviously, their interests 
are very, very great. And when you—when their 
money is threatened, they push back. And so, it’s 
an important factor. But I think it maybe not be 
the most important factor here.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you this. One of the 
releases in WikiLeaks, a senior government 
official in Yemen warned U.S. diplomats that poor 
security at the country’s main store of 
radioactive products could allow dangerous 
material to fall into the hands of terrorists, 
according to a leaked U.S. embassy cable. The 
official told the Americans that the lone guard 
standing watch at Yemen’s National Atomic Energy 
Commission facility has been removed from his 
post and that its only closed-circuit TV security 
camera, that’s broken down six months previously and was never fixed.

JONATHAN SCHELL: Well, what this shows you is 
that we’re approaching really a new point in the 
whole evolution of the nuclear age, and that is 
the point at which nuclear weapon materials 
escape from the control merely of states and get 
down to sub-state groups, including, of course, 
conceivably terrorist groups. It’s impossible to 
know when that line will be crossed, because 
almost by definition, that’s going to happen in 
secrecy somewhere. Some deal is going to go down 
in Azerbaijan or somewhere else, and that line 
will be crossed. We’ve been approaching it really 
for 60 years, because it’s just in the very 
nature of this technology that it spreads.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the best way to deal with that?

JONATHAN SCHELL: The best way to deal with that 
is to roll back the technology as a whole. And 
that’s really where Obama’s commitment to move to 
a world free of nuclear weapons comes in, because 
the very same steps that you would take to 
actually eliminate nuclear weapons are the very 
ones that you would take to keep that technology 
from spreading into other hands. In other words, 
you’d get it under control, you would actually 
liquidate it so it didn’t exist. That would be an 
important step. And then you—so you’d solve 
really the two problems with one stroke.

AMY GOODMAN: Jonathan Schell, I want to thank you 
very much for being with us, leading advocate for 
nuclear disarmament. His most recent book is 
called The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger.
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