John Rachow, MD
July 16, 2010
Senator Robert Byrd died June 28, 2010. He was remarkable and surprising in many ways and probably the last of a kind. One bit of trivia emerged that jogged my memory. Senator Byrd was a dedicated fan of the TV show “Gunsmoke,” and he advanced a resolution in the Senate protesting the end of the long running series in 1975.
I remember listening regularly as a fan to the radio version of Gunsmoke, in the early 1950’s; it seemed more sophisticated to an 8 year old than the Lone Ranger. What I really remember about the radio show was William Conrad’s basso profundo starting every show with "Around Dodge City and in the territory on west, there's just one way to handle the killers and the spoilers and that's with a U.S. Marshal and the smell of gunsmoke."
The word “spoilers” struck me as novel and its precise meaning has eluded me for the last half century. I have rarely seen it used outside of aerodynamic lingo or as in the modern “movie spoiler” (giving away the ending). In the Gunsmoke context, spoiler is more akin to the 1942 Marlene Dietrich/John Wayne movie “The Spoilers” about government agents jumping the gold claims of honest prospectors in frontier Alaska.
About a week after Senator Byrd’s death, a genuine spoiler appeared in the form of an editorial in the Washington Post by Governor Mitt Romney that portrayed the April 2010 new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev as “Obama’s worst foreign policy mistake.” This editorial is one of the first clear condemnations of the treaty but, on closer reading, is as much a backhanded condemnation of President Obama’s domestic policies as his foreign policy agenda. Governor Romney’s anachronistic arguments and thinking sound a paean from the long past days of the Cold War.
Governor Romney’s editorial follows on the heels of the Heritage Foundation’s roll out it its well-funded Heritage Action for America program, a 501(c)(4) action organization intended to organize grassroots Heritage Foundation members to lobby U.S. Congress members on a variety of policy issues of interest to conservatives. The lead Heritage campaign is to prevent ratification of the “hopelessly naïve” START treaty. Heritage Action for America takes credit for overwhelming the online State Department Briefing on START earlier in the year leading to the cancellation of the briefing. See the Heritage Action for America’s “Stop START” briefing that emphasizes how the U.S. should lead through strength rather than by virtue of respect.
It would be well to consider the progress that has been made since the early 1980’s when the two nuclear weapons superpowers, U.S. and the U.S.S.R., coexisted in a tense state of metastable peace by embracing the principle of peace though mutually assured destruction (MAD).
Work by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) beginning in 1980s in citizen diplomacy between Soviet and U.S. physicians was instrumental in moving both countries toward nuclear arms reduction negotiations. Because of this work, IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. IPPNW and the Nobel Committee were subsequently widely criticized and ridiculed by the conservative media including the Wall Street Journal in 1985.1 History has validated IPPNW’s work, and last year, the Nobel Peace Committee formally recognized, with the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama’s forward looking nuclear weapons policies.
The first START, was originally proposed by President Reagan in 1982, but a treaty was not signed until 1991 under President George H. W. Bush. The first START has resulted in elimination of more that 75% of the strategic nuclear weapons originally deployed by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The new START, tediously and soberly negotiated, was signed by the U.S. and Russia in April 2010. The new START, if ratified, would lead to another 74% reduction in total deployed strategic weapons. This is gold. See the State Department’s new START at a glance.
Furthermore, ratification of new START would set the stage for the long awaited ratification by the U.S. Senate of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Most nations, including Russia, have already ratified the CTBT. Ratification of the CTBT by the U.S. would likely rapidly lead to the CTBT coming into force. And finally, the international community would have the leverage and credibility to pressure nations currently actively seeking to become nuclear armed states to desist. More gold.
Neither of Governor Romney’s main criticisms of the new START relate to new START, itself, rather are directed at issues outside the treaty's scope. The first complaint that the treaty does not address tactical nuclear weapons. But of course, the treaty is all about U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons, not tactical nuclear weapons or the weapons of other nations. Tactical nuclear weapons would be an excellent topic for post START negotiations.
Secondly, Governor Romney complains that the treaty would not allow the U.S. to build new anti-missile defense systems to be based in Europe. But of course, if real progress continues to be made in reducing deployed strategic nuclear weapons, anti-missile defenses in Europe would not be needed. Besides, NATO embraces the new START treaty.
Governor Romney comes across as a spoiler, in the old sense, jumping the claim of an honest prospector who worked hard and successfully to uncover the vein of gold that could lead to nuclear abolition.
1 See http://www.hnn.us/articles/118314.html for Lawrence S. Wittner’s account of the founding and early work of IPPNW and the criticism by the conservative media of IPPNW following awarding of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. See also Dr. Wittner’s book, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 2009, Stanford University Press.