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Taking Full Advantage of Our Nuclear Spring

Posted by David Hart on April 20, 2010

I write this in the midst of what some are calling our Nuclear Spring –  our imperfect moment of opportunity.  After years of little progress on moving the world toward a future free from the horrors of nuclear weapons, we now see a potential thaw.  On April 6, 2010, an updated Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was released.  On April 8, New START was signed in Prague.  On April 13, President Obama hosted a Nuclear Security Summit with almost 50 heads of state.  In May, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference will be held at the United Nations.  Taken together this series of major events presents us with an unusual opportunity to promote our important work. 

At the Next Generation Nuclear Security Summit on April 11, respected nuclear expert Marcos Castrioto de Azambuja  said that, “we are finally coming to the end of a long period of paralysis.”  He noted that up until now as far as nuclear disarmament is concerned “it seems the cold war didn’t end.  We’ve become hostage to a world that no longer exists.” He concluded his remarks saying, “what is most important to me is that now there is a sense of movement and possibility.”  He told us that “we have a real window of opportunity, but that window will only be open briefly and the dangers of failure to act are real.” 

Nuclear Posture Review

PSR and our allied groups were hoping for (but not expecting) a more transformational NPR.  A respected colleague who has been following this closely for the community described it as a missed opportunity and suggested we emphasize the possibility for real change.  He recommended that we note that, “the NPR has opened the door to transformational change, but didn’t walk through the door.”  That works for me – especially if we strongly urge that it is long past time to walk through the door and describe clearly what walking through that door would look like.  

The NPR states that, “the long-term goal of U.S. policy is the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.”   This is a very positive statement.  Still, it is important to recognize that the very next line reads,  “at this point, it is not clear when this goal can be achieved.” A year ago in Prauge we heard President Obama declare his support for a world free of nuclear weapons.   We celebrated this dramatic shift, but were concerned when he said this goal might happen in his lifetime.  Many of us felt if this goal is ever to be achieved it will have to happen in during his lifetime and that substantial progress needs to be made during his time in office.

PSR understands the enormous threat that nuclear weapons pose to our health and security.  We believe any rational understanding of this danger would lead to a much greater sense of urgency.   Thus, I hope we can welcome the opening of the door that this NPR offers, but not accept these half measures as nearly sufficient to bringing about the changes we desire and the world so desperately needs.

New START

For the first time in years, the US Senate will be debating the ratification of a new arms control treaty.  New START includes only modest cuts in a dangerously bloated arsenal, but nevertheless deserves our enthusiastic support.  It reduces the risks to our national security and that in and of itself is enough reason for leaders across the political spectrum to support it.  Significantly in his remarks at the signing President Obama spoke about the need for further negotiations to include the key areas of non-deployed and tactical warheads. It is generally understood that New START has now become the key next step on the road to zero.  Gareth Evans said recently, “If New START doesn’t get done, we can give up on the entire disarmament agenda.”  I don’t think that is overstating the importance of this effort. While we advocate for New START we will remain clear that the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons is the only way to protect our health and security.  In a recent report from the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) titled Zero is the only option, they write, “the world does not have the luxury of time when it comes to eliminating the dangers posed by nuclear weapons.”   This urgency must guide our work even as we pursue next small steps such as New START. 

Nuclear Security Summit

The Nuclear Security Summit presents us with another opportunity to shape the debate and push our agenda.  President Obama convened a head of state level meeting with close to 50 nations participating.   The dangers of loose nuclear material are real and up till now have not been fully understood by the public.  This summit provides us with a chance to make clear the horrific health impacts of our policies and to shift course toward a safer future.  Much more at:  http://www.FMWG.org 

PSR is in a strong position to speak about the links between nuclear power, the dangers of loose nuclear material, and nuclear weapons proliferation.  At the citizen’s summit on Next Generation Nuclear Security, keynote speaker, Ambassador Robert Gallucci, said, “when you are in a hole, the first lesson is stop digging.”  He was making an important point about the futility of efforts to secure vulnerable fissile material without stopping all production of HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium).

Reaching our goal of a safer future remains challenging, but we now have before us a rare moment of opportunity.  Imperfect as it is, this moment provides us a chance to make real progress.  We must rise to face the challenges before us and demonstrate bold and creative leadership.  The world demands no less of us at this critical time.  We welcome the thaw in the debate that has come with the Nuclear Spring and call on all our members, friends, and colleagues to help us advance an agenda that will make us all much more secure.  

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