One blast and a giant mushroom cloud spews up into the sky, covering the entire New York skyline, while thousands of buildings are vaporized and an unimaginable death toll surpassing anything that the human world has ever seen exists.
This is what retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard Jr. addressed during his lecture Monday night in Cline Hall. It encompassed many claims on the renewing of START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), the lack of security when handling nuclear weapons and the threat of terrorists or unruly governments using these weapons.
“The greatest threat to the security of the United States is the detonation of one or more nuclear devices on one of our cities or on our vital national security interests abroad,” he said.
Gard is a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He served over 31 years in the military and now exclusively works as the chair of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation based out of Washington D.C., according to the organization’s website. He began his lecture with a striking assertion.
According to Gard, there are currently more than 23,000 armed and nuclear devices, and 111 sites to launch them from in over 13 countries worldwide, which is a big concern.
The actual START I treaty is a renewing of an earlier treaty formed during the Ronald Reagan presidency, and was signed by President George H.W. Bush in July 1991. It capped the number of weapon-deploying systems and facilitated on-site inspections for each country, and hoped to facilitate more dismantling of these nuclear weapons.
Gard said it was brought into effect because “between 1950 and 1980, 32 incidents almost triggered nuclear launches, and 12 were considered near misses almost concluding in nuclear holocaust.”
The new START treaty will make improvements, including aggregates that limit U.S. and Russian warheads to 1,550, which is 30 percent lower than the old START treaty, according to a White House press release. It is being discussed by the Senate, but has hit a bit of a snag, according to Gard.
“The Senate must provide its advice and consent to a resolution and ratification by a 2/3 majority, requiring over 7/8 Republican votes, of which there are two at the moment,” Gard said.
Lack of support in the Senate could slow down the bill, and it would be left hung out to dry. Gard hopes this is not the case. Drake University Assistant Professor of Politics Mary McCarthy attended and helped with the lecture. She felt that Gard made a strong assertion toward the U.S. government.
“His main point was that the new START is intimately connected with the larger, global nonproliferation regime,” she said. “In relation to that, one of his most forceful arguments was that if START is not ratified by the U.S. Senate, ‘we can kiss the nonproliferation regime goodbye.’”
Throughout his speech, Gard went through some valid points on how to help make the treaty pass, including expressing interest to one’s senators, and protesting. He used scare tactics to inform.
For the better part of five minutes, he described the damage a crude nuclear device would create in a moment-by-moment basis if it were detonated in Times Square in New York City during peak hours.
“In the first few seconds, everything within a mile’s radius would be vaporized,” he explained. “All of those two miles out would receive severe burns and die of radiation poisoning. The entire blast radius would be uninhabitable for decades.”
The play-by-play worked on many of those in the audience.
“When he told that story, the entire room was silent,” junior Ian Weller said. “You could hear a pin drop. He really couldn’t have gotten his point across better.”
Gard will continue to canvass universities and the nation to make his ideas heard. The START treaty is still passing through the Senate committees.
Still, his biggest concern is that the treaty will not pass. But with his lobbying and those across the nation becoming more concerned with the implications of the START treaty not passing, he believes there is still hope for the rest of the nation.
Photo: Connor McCourtney