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Don't play politics with new START treaty

By Peter Wilk, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Wilk says Jon Kyl, other "nuclear dinosaurs" in Senate blocking vote on New START
  • Treaty, OK'd by Obama and Medvedev, would cut nuclear arms in U.S., Russia, he says
  • He says nuclear weapons can only be medical disaster; treaty is urgent, nonpartisan issue
  • Wilk: U.S. generals, national security leaders agree START is crucial; Senate must follow

Editor's note: Dr. Peter Wilk is the executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the U.S. affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for its work alerting the public and policymakers of the dangers of nuclear war and for their efforts to prevent it.

(CNN) -- Led by Jon Kyl of Arizona, a group of nuclear dinosaurs in the U.S. Senate is trying to block a clear path to a safer, healthier world. That path is the New START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which significantly reduces America and Russia's nuclear weapons stockpiles and provides a sound protocol for verifying compliance.

President Medvedev of Russia and President Obama of the United States struck the deal last April, and now its fate lies in whether the Senate will vote to ratify it.

At this moment of decision, our elected officials must rise above narrow partisanship and consider how their actions affect our nation's health and security.

As a physician, I am deeply concerned that these two important priorities are being sacrificed to politics.

Consider the thoughtful resolution from a nonpartisan group of medical leaders. The Maine Medical Association strongly supporting New START as essential to protecting the public's health. This highly unusual move underscores how urgent and nonpartisan the issue is.

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The resolution noted that "even small nuclear explosions show devastating immediate and long-term medical consequences including death, blast injury, burns, radiation sickness and malignancy, on a scale far beyond the ability of the medical community and the public health infrastructure to respond to adequately."

This organization of concerned physicians went on to declare that "the only viable solution to the problem" is arms reduction. Hence the need for New START.

But this common sense has run headlong into the dysfunctional politics being practiced by a small minority of senators.

What is possessing them to ignore the advice of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen and a host of other current and former national military and national security leaders, including George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, William Perry and William Cohen, remains a mystery.

Admiral Mullen said this past Wednesday, "I am extremely concerned that next month...we will be without a treaty with Russia for one year." He added: "It's critical that we move forward as rapidly as we can."

In the 21st century, nuclear weapons are a liability, not an asset. The United States will be far safer with fewer nuclear weapons in the world and a stronger, more stable relationship with Russia.

The first START agreement expired last year on December 5, and as a result the United States has had no inspectors on the ground in Russia since then. We need to resume those inspections of the Russian arsenal.

This is a crucial moment in our history. Other senators must now step up to their responsibility to protect national security and the public's health and vote for ratification before the Senate adjourns for the year.

Our nation can lead the world into a new generation of cooperation and effective collective action that can address the most significant challenges of our time. Further delay on New START is simply unacceptable.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter Wilk.