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Working to scrap nuclear weapons in 2010

This year I'm adding something special to my New Year's wish-list: progress toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

The opportunities to make progress on this agenda are better in 2010 than they have been since I first came to Washington to serve the Friends Committee on National Legislation some 20 years ago.

Part of my hope for real change comes from President Barack Obama's dramatic call for the United States and the global community to work for a world free of nuclear weapons. In his Prague speech in April, our president outlined an agenda that included a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia, a new focus on multilateral negotiations and initiatives to reduce the nuclear danger, and Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. His clarion call for nuclear disarmament reflected well on the Nobel Committee's decision to award Obama its peace prize in December.

Yet this isn't about one U.S. president.

For the first time in decades, leading opinion-makers in both major political parties recognize that nuclear weapons don't assure U.S. security -- they threaten it. In this country, a growing chorus of voices -- from Quakers to Catholic bishops -- has publicly called on our government to return to the road toward a world free of nuclear weapons.

Even more astounding, these individuals agree with Obama that the next steps the United States should take on that road include negotiating a Strategic Arms Reduc-tion Treaty with Russia, followed by Senate ratification of that treaty, and ratifying the CTBT. Yet even with this broad-based sup-port, turning the U.S. back toward nuclear disarmament will require a lot of work.

The first step is to stay focused on specifics. The international organization monitoring nuclear weapons tests estimates there are 26,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. Some 25,000 of them are in U.S. and Russian arsenals. The United States and Russia had planned to sign a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that would reduce the size of these arsenals in December, but that deal isn't yet concluded. It needs to happen early in 2010, and then the Senate should ratify that treaty.

The next step is to stop the development of new nuclear weapons technology and the spread of that technology to other states. The United States and 181 other countries have signed a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that bans all nuclear test explosions. The treaty won't be enforced until the U.S. Senate and eight other countries ratify the treaty. The others will more likely ratify, if we go first.

Under the U.S. Constitution, Senate ratification of a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia (after it is negotiated with Russia) and of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty requires two-thirds of the Senate voting in the affirmative. That's 67 votes.

Opponents of these changes only need 34 votes to defeat either of these treaties. Persuading even 60 senators to vote together on one issue isn't easy. Persuading 67 senators to ratify each of these treaties will require major lobbying by us ordinary people, in Washington and around the country. History depends on your persuasive powers to free the world of the nuclear threat.

You can help. Write your senators today. Ask them -- yes or no -- will they vote to ratify the new START and the CTBT treaties? Tell them that you think the right answer is yes.

Joe Volk is executive director of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a non-partisan Quaker lobby in the public interest.