I've been thinking a lot about anniversaries lately. This week I passed the iconic milestone of 65 and received my all-time favorite talking birthday card. On the front, Kirk is addressing his first officer: "Analysis, Spock: If all of the candles on that cake were to be lit simultaneously...?" On opening the card, I hear Spock's raspy voice answer: "Annihilation, Jim...total, complete, absolute annihilation." I was struck immediately how this card was a metaphor for lighting all our fuses in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals at once, arsenals that persist to this day on hair-trigger, launch-on-alert status. We continue to be at high daily risk for an accidental, civilization-ending catastrophe.
Looking back I see we have somehow survived the insane policy of mutually assured destruction. We have now survived decades of erosion of nuclear nonproliferation agreements between nuclear and non-nuclear states and a dark period for more than a decade since the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). During the same period the U.S. overtly reserved the right of nuclear weapon first-use against even non-nuclear states and adhered to the new policy madness of perpetual "full spectrum dominance" by the U.S. military. These policies have certainly emboldened previously non-nuclear states to acquire and test nuclear weapons, further undermining the safety of us all.
The election of President Obama was well received in the U.S. and around the world. Obama's speech in Prague, Czechoslovakia on April 5, 2009 revived the dream of movement toward nuclear arms reduction and eventual abolition. Obama's surprise receipt of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was further evidence of global high hopes and expectations. Just yesterday, the Associated Press reported that a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between the U.S. and Russia has finally been negotiated. The treaty is to be signed by Presidents Obama and Medvedev in Prague on April 8, 2010 - close to the first anniversary of Obama's Prague speech. Certainly this treaty sets the stage for further mutual nuclear arms reductions by the two nuclear superpowers.
Another signal that U.S. policy may be shifting is the repeated delay in completion of the quadrennial Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). The Pentagon is a key player in most aspects of conducting this review and it is not difficult to imagine the resistance to changing longstanding but outmoded positions. I take the delayed release of this edition of the NPR to be encouraging that real policy change is afoot.
Nuclear weapons are the most immediate threat to rapid extinction of human civilization. Next year, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) will celebrate its own iconic milestone, the 50th anniversary of work toward abolition of nuclear weapons. I am increasingly optimistic that next year will also be the first anniversary of a genuine new start back on the long road to nuclear weapons abolition. Ratification in the U.S. Senate of the new START treaty and ratification of the CTBT will certainly be challenging to achieve. Our good luck so far may be running out, and we have no viable option but seize this window of opportunity to see this job done. This will be hard but essential work, positive work. Count on PSR to be a leader in a growing coalition of YES. Yes, we must. Yes, we will.
John Rachow PhD MD
PSR President Elect