Obama’s no-nukes vision

It was an important step forward in addressing nuclear dangers to present and future generations.

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Throughout his campaign and now as the president, he has called on his counterparts to muster the courage and take action that could result in a world without the deadly threat of nuclear weapons. Earlier this year while in Prague, the president spoke of “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” He emphasized America’s “moral responsibility to act” by leading this effort.

On Sept. 24, with the United States serving as president of the U.N. Security Council, President Obama personally led the Council, with many of his colleagues present, and focused the group on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. His leadership that day was critical to the unanimous vote on a measure that calls for further progress on nuclear arms reductions through a strengthened Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and for improved security for nuclear weapons materials, while also proposing ways to deter any nation from withdrawing from the NPT.

Not surprisingly, the Security Council has not been pressing for nuclear disarmament because its five permanent members — the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China — are the five principal nuclear weapons states in the world. These nations are required by the NPT to pursue good faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

Unfortunately, they have not been doing enough, and consequently they have placed this critical treaty in jeopardy.

There are four additional nuclear weapons states that are not parties to the NPT: Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. Although a complicated and difficult goal, these states must also be brought into these efforts.

Many pundits dismiss the idea of even taking the next steps in this endeavor as being Pollyannaish or unachievable. But the president sees it differently and should be commended for using the moral strength of the United States and renewing his commitment to this important endeavor as he led the U.N. vote.

The Security Council must now build on this action and become far more active in pursuing nonproliferation and disarmament, including taking the following steps:
First, finally remove a relic of the Cold War and take all nuclear weapons, including our own, off high-alert status. This measure was considered to be a deterrent during the Cold War, but is now simply an accident waiting to happen.

Second, reaffirm the 1996 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” These negotiations could commence under the auspices of the Security Council with assistance from its Military Staff Committee.

Third, make commitments by the permanent members of the Council to never use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are parties to the NPT, and pledge policies of No First Use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

United States leadership and political will have been sorely missing in the past. But now, President Obama has signaled his willingness to demonstrate that leadership and it is time for other governments and for ordinary citizens to join him. The goal, which is within sight, is a new treaty, a Nuclear Weapons Convention, for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of these weapons of mass annihilation.

Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is The Challenge of Abolishing Nuclear Weapons.