Friday, July 16, 2010

A Walk the Senate should take

Last night's Washington opening of the American Ensemble Theater production of A Walk in the Woods could not be more timely.

Lee Blessing's Pulitzer-nominated play casts two people with the awesome responsibility to reduce the risk of nuclear war through negotiated arms reductions. This brilliant and well-acted play highlights the urgent necessity and daunting challenge of responding to the danger posed by nuclear weapons just in time, as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to take its most important vote on arms control in a generation by the end of the month. Statesmanship will be at a premium in consideration of this landmark agreement, as the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the United States and Russia moves to the Senate floor where a two-thirds majority -- and therefore bipartisan cooperation -- will be necessary to ratify it.

In the play, negotiators John Honeyman and Andrey Botvinnik represent the Cold War adversaries, the United States, and the Soviet Union respectively. They struggle to reach an agreement. Many wish them to fail, and their argument, and friendship, resonate with the issues under debate over the new START Treaty.

Some argue that nuclear weapons make war too horrible for any "rational" leader to risk. Blessing's Soviet presciently observes how globalization complicates this delicate logic: "Once we only had to be rational in English and Russian." Today we must do so in more languages and perhaps with terrorists who have no territory or population for us to threaten. And as the Gulf oil spill attests, accidents happen. Nuclear weapons endanger human civilization.

Blessing's heroes offer hope by rising from their seats and opening their imaginations to each other. History agrees. In the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, arms negotiators moved their work from Geneva's gilded halls to the sauna, the target range, and the pool - and over countless vodka toasts, we made a lot of progress.

A generation later, over 22 thousand nuclear weapons remain. This spring, U.S. and Russian negotiators concluded a new arms reduction treaty, but now face domestic politics in both countries. In Washington, the Senate began hearings on ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty earlier this month and will receive a new National Intelligence Estimate on its effects in a matter of days. Earlier this year, the U.S. Government proposed $180 billion in new spending related to nuclear weapons. Some political leaders argue that this is not enough - that we should resume nuclear explosive testing and develop new nuclear weapons. As Blessing observes of our efforts to escape nuclear annihilation, "sometimes the hawks eat a few doves."

Still, survival requires that someone take up this work, and the brave few who do have each other. Why should arms negotiators become friends? Andrey Botvinnik argues "because someone has to."

The United States and the world would be more secure if every Senator and staffer involved in foreign affairs saw this production.

Not all of them will, but you still can. Three of the five performances of this important production are already sold out, a few tickets remain for the 11:30 a.m. show on Saturday (July 17) and the 3:00 p.m. show on the following Saturday (July 24). Get your tickets now.

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