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Preventing a nuclear nightmare

Air raid sirens, fallout shelters, "duck and cover" drills. For years, the United States prepared for the possibility of nuclear war against the Soviet Union. But with deterrence and arms control, our nuclear nightmare was never realized. 

Today, the nuclear threat has evolved. The Cold War is over, and the threat of a nuclear exchange between the world's two largest nuclear powers has declined. Yet the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands increases. 

Nuclear terrorism presents us with a far different challenge - but equally frightening consequences. To meet this threat successfully, we need to lead with the same foresight and act with renewed urgency. The Senate is slated to have two opportunities this summer to play a critical role in securing the world from the grave danger of nuclear terrorism. 

The United Nations Security Council's recent decision to impose a fourth set of sanctions over Iran's nuclear program capped a spring of intense activity in Washington to curb the threat of nuclear proliferation. 

In April, the Obama administration signed the New START with Russia. A few days later, Washington hosted the Nuclear Security Summit to rally the international community to secure nuclear materials worldwide. In May, nearly 190 countries concluded a formal review of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, in an effort to revitalize their commitment to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. 

This flurry of activity has spurred concrete steps to secure dangerous materials and weapons around the globe. 

Indonesia - the world's largest Muslim country - pledged to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Kazakhstan, Chile, Mexico and Ukraine have promised to remove or destroy all of their highly enriched uranium. Armenia, Egypt and Malaysia passed stronger laws to help prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Argentina, Georgia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines have made new commitments to join international efforts in combating the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Perhaps most important, however, was the Security Council's decision to adopt a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. These latest sanctions were supported by all permanent council members - including Russia and China.

The overwhelming margin of the vote sends a clear message to Iran that its refusal to address international concerns cannot be tolerated.

All these positive and constructive efforts have led to a growing international momentum to deal with the proliferation threat. The Senate can continue this momentum by passing robust sanctions on Iran and ratifying the New START.

The Security Council resolution is an important step in proving to Iran that it is isolated in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. However, this "pressure track" can be successful only if Washington and our European allies move forward on additional tough sanctions capable of forcing Iran off its current proliferation agenda.

The Senate also should work to ratify the New START, a productive next step in a long, bipartisan history of arms control. The treaty would reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads 30 percent, and reinstitute a number of important verification and transparency measures between the United States and Russia.

The treaty re-establishes U.S. leadership in nuclear nonproliferation and demonstrates our firm commitment to carry out our responsibilities under the NPT. Ratification could build leverage to hold governments accountable and compel countries to abide by their NPT commitments.

This helps further isolate states - such as Iran and North Korea - that refuse to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions.

To meet the threat posed by nuclear proliferation, Washington will need the support and collaboration of the international community. Success requires an intensive and sustained effort - which the United States can lead but cannot dictate.

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this spring, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger offered his support for the New START.

He asked us to imagine waking up one morning to learn that a nuclear weapon had killed 500,000 people somewhere in the world. Kissinger urged us to act today to help secure the world from this nightmare nuclear scenario.

Important steps have indeed been taken this spring.

The Senate must continue moving forward this summer by ratifying the New START and passing additional strong sanctions on Iran.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.