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To Get Back at Russia, the GOP Is Playing Games With Nuclear Safety | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

To Get Back at Russia, the GOP Is Playing Games With Nuclear Safety

A demonstrator mans a barricade in Kiev, February 21, 2014 (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

In a move that’s in equal measures frightening, foolhardy and dangerous, Senate Republicans, led by Bob Corker (TN), last week introduced the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014. I’d say the world just became a little bit less safe, but that wouldn’t be accurate. The world just became a lot less safe.

Included in the bill’s Cold War–era rhetoric is a provision that puts a freeze on US participation in the New START Treaty, and one that limits overflights heretofore authorized by the Open Skies Treaty. It will also accelerate deployment of ballistic missile defenses in Europe. While this isn’t quite Dulles-style brinkmanship, it is entirely too close for comfort. Senator Corker and his allies have needlessly pushed us that much closer to an armed conflagration.

Bilateral reduction of nuclear arms is not an acceptable bargaining chip in this situation. The US nuclear arsenal endangers Americans as much as it does Russians, and this petty nuke-rattling by Corker’s war party puts the entire world at risk. Explains Corker without even a hint of self-awareness, “We need to inflict more direct consequences on Russia prior to Vladimir Putin taking additional steps that will be very difficult to undo.” Threatening to “inflict direct consequences,” especially where nuclear disarmament is concerned, is chilling. The mutual reduction of nuclear weapons that New START Treaty calls for is not, as the All Souls Nuclear Disarmament Task Force puts it, “a favor which the U.S. is doing for Russia; it is in the self-interest of both parties (and the rest of humanity).”

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It’s ludicrous to think that we “defend peace,” as Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) claims the bill does, by ratcheting up military tension—especially nuclear tension. Our nuclear-disarmament agreements, like the New START Treaty, are fragile enough as it is. It is also folly to take Senator John McCain’s (predictably) belligerent stance that the only way to get anywhere with Vladimir Putin is with increasing—and increasingly military—aggression. We’ve held the entire world’s population captive by playing nuclear chicken before; to engage in such a strategy again is beyond reckless. The Cold War is over; we must use diplomacy, not short-sighted chest-thumping to resolve this crisis.

Let’s de-escalate and defuse this situation with rational thought and an appropriate dose of wariness (and awareness) before we start counting and aiming our weapons. Let’s follow the lead of OSCE, which is responding to the Ukraine situation with “high-level diplomacy and multilateral dialogue” on one end, to “monitoring, fact-finding and military visits” on the other. There are nuclear weapons involved here; we won’t be able to shoot first and ask questions later.

Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel and Stephen F. Cohen: Cold War against Russia—without debate.

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