I have always believed that mankind is destined for the stars. Even as I write this I am trying to figure it out. Our technology seems to be on an ever-accelerating curve. Toward what?
We've cracked the genetic code. We've looked into the heart of matter itself. We're on the verge of creating artificial life. Why not the stars? This is no longer science fiction. Scientists are already probing the heavens for habitable environments in other solar systems. They find, on average, one new planet a week.
NASA recently developed an infrared telescope that can see to the edge of the universe and watch suns like our own being born. What is to prevent us from reaching them? Only ourselves. But as we reach out for the distant stars, we seem hell-bent on self-destruction here on earth. At the top of the list: our obsession with nuclear weapons.
We could survive the detonation of one or two nuclear bombs, but there are thousands of them in the world, and if one is launched, others are likely to follow. If humanity is to survive, we must prevent a massive nuclear exchange, and the only way to do this is to lower the total number of nuclear bombs in the world. The vast majority of them are in Russia and the U.S., so that's the place to start.
Ronald Reagan recognized this and began the process with the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. START was signed in July 1991 and successfully reduced the danger of a single arbitrary or accidental firing igniting a nuclear holocaust. It in no way diminished the ability of either the U.S. or Russia to defend itself. If it had neither country would have signed it.
Meanwhile, former Sens. Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar — one a Democrat from Georgia and the other a Republican from Indiana — have worked together to secure loose nuclear material, nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction where ever they are found. Some weapons were destroyed; some were placed under greater security. This was successful because no nation wants their most dangerous weapons vulnerable to theft or accident.
The U.S. would be a much safer place today except for two things. The first is the rise of terrorism, and the second is the fracturing of bipartisanship within the U.S.
START 1 expired in December of last year. In April of this year, President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart signed the New START Treaty. However, before it goes into effect, the treaty must be ratified by the U.S. Senate, and today, the Senate is no longer the deliberative body it once was. It has been reduced to two warring parties.
There was a time when partisanship stopped at the nation's borders. I fear that's not so today. I'm afraid the treaty may suffer the fate of so many proposals today: If one side is for it, the other will be against it. This must not happen with START.
Al-Qaida is seeking nuclear capacity. It won't get their bomb as sovereign nations do, through research and development. Al-Qaida will steal it.
There is a well-documented international black market in nuclear materials, so it's only a matter of time until al-Qaida succeeds. That is, unless Russia and the United States cooperate by continuing to reduce their nuclear arsenals, to completely secure those that are left and put pressure other nuclear nations to do likewise.
When Obama signed the new START agreement April 8, he was following in the footsteps of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush Sr. It's now the job of the Senate to put this new treaty into force by ratifying it.
I pray Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss will do their part. A future in space is my vision, but if we're to have any future at all, we need everybody's help.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.