Security, Sin and Nuclear Weapons: A Christian Plea for the New START Treaty

I was reviewing my academic bio recently, and discovered that the very first article I ever published was called "Security, Sin, and Nuclear Weapons." The year was 1987. Twenty-three years later, despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, security, sin and nuclear weapons remain concerns that are as relevant as ever.

The issue on the table is a nuclear arms reduction and verification treaty between the United States and Russia. The treaty, called New START, would reduce Russian and American deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550 and delivery vehicles to 700 each. This would be a 33 percent reduction in the existing arsenals, which is worth achieving and celebrating even as we know that countless cities and millions of precious human beings could be destroyed by the use of even part of the remaining arsenals. Still, these reductions would be a great step on the way to a safer world, as would the re-establishment of bilateral, intrusive verification measures for both sides, also part of the treaty.

This treaty has been signed, sealed and delivered by Russia and the U.S. and now sits on the floor of the United States Senate, which must muster 67 votes to approve it. The treaty has been the subject of more than 209 committee hearings, and was recommended for approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a bipartisan 14-4 vote in September. It is supported by, well, just about everyone who matters in the foreign policy establishment. It has unanimous support from the current uniformed military leadership, and bipartisan support from former lawmakers and top security officials from the last seven presidential administrations, including old hawks like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz and Sam Nunn.

So what's the problem? The treaty is being held up by a small number of Republican senators, led by Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who purport to be concerned that it does not adequately provide for the modernization of our nuclear weapons complex. Others express concern that the treaty will curtail our missile defense options or that its verification procedures are inadequate. President Obama has offered tens of billions in spending increases for these (disastrous, evil, unusable) weapons to meet the objections offered on that score, but so far there is no budging. It is hard not to conclude that the primary motivation for opposing the treaty is to hurt the president or oppose the Administration's foreign policy in general.

Nuclear weapons present one of the gravest threats to the human future that has ever existed. Here is the combination of human creativity and human fear incarnate. We build these weapons to secure our future but also know, as if in a nightmare we try our hardest to forget, that one miscalculation or one acquisition of nuclear weapons by a committed terrorist could unleash annihilation on millions. It is hard to think of a more profound symbol of human sinfulness.

Nuclear treaties like New START represent an agonizingly slow human crawl-back from the ledge of our own destruction. In the tiniest baby steps we learn to live over time with somewhat fewer of these devices, which if ever used will destroy us and our children. We have come a long way from the hottest days of the coldest war, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union each aimed 25,000 weapons at each other and scanned the skies and computer screens for possible preemptive strikes, red buttons at the ready. That was absurd, and where we are is still absurd, but this treaty would at least move us one step down the absurdity ladder.

As a Christian, I believe in a God of life and peace. I believe in a God who nudges us but does not compel us toward choices that are in our own best interests. I also believe that human beings have the capacity and certainly the responsibility to make wise choices when it comes to matters as grave as nuclear weapons. I do not believe in a God who overrides our choices. If we want to step back from the brink of self-destruction, God will help us do so, but if we choose the other path, God will start over with the amoeba. Which shall it be for us?

For the sake of God and humanity and the human future, the Senate must ratify this treaty.

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