Defusing a global threat

Defusing a global threat

Leaders offer new hope for ending our decades-long nuclear dilemma

By John Grula 08/05/2009

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The anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (Aug.6) and Nagasaki (Aug. 9) always offer a time to reflect on the status of the world’s nuclear arsenals and where nuclear policy is heading. This year, unlike many recent years, some developments are encouraging.

To his great credit, President Barack Obama has made a substantial shift away from the dangerous nuclear doctrines of his predecessor. In a historic speech on April 5 in the Czech Republic capital of Prague, Obama clearly and forcefully stated America’s new commitment to lead the way in seeking “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Obama also made specific proposals on ways to reduce the dangers of nuclear weapons in the short term while we begin the longer-term process of complete and general disarmament. Steps the president outlined included the following:

•    Negotiate a new treaty with Russia to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991 (START I), which expires at the end of this year.  At a summit meeting in early July with Russian President Medvedev, agreement was reached that each side will soon eliminate about 200 strategic warheads deployed on high-alert missiles. This would be the first of much deeper cuts to drastically reduce the arsenals of 1,700 strategic warheads on high-alert delivery vehicles which each nation is still poised to launch.

•    “Immediately and aggressively” pursue US Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). To stop further nuclear proliferation it is crucial that this treaty come into force because blocking test explosions stops new nuclear growth. But the CTBT will not enter into force until the US and eight other holdout nations — including China, India, Pakistan, Israel and Iran — ratify this treaty. Only if the US leads the way on CTBT ratification is there any hope the rest of the holdout nations will follow suit.  Recent news that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona might help secure Senate ratification of the CTBT is an encouraging sign. President Obama has already signaled his commitment to ending nuclear tests and the development of new nuclear weapons by his refusal to request funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program started under the Bush administration.

•    Strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the non-proliferation regime by expanding international inspections to detect violations of the NPT, ending the production of radioactive materials that can be used in nuclear weapons, and securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years. These measures are critical to preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear capabilities, as well as for stopping any further proliferation by nation-states.

At the same time President Obama is vigorously pursuing a new nuclear agenda, Congress is also offering some creative bipartisan proposals for ending our decades-old nuclear dilemma. One of the most promising is House Resolution 278, co-sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Cal.). Among other things, this congressional resolution calls for reducing US and Russian nuclear arms to minimal levels on each side and redirecting the monetary savings from the shrunken arsenals toward an international effort to improve the nutrition, health care and education of children in the world who need it most. All this would advance the Millennium Development Goals of reducing child mortality and eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

HR 278 may well succeed because it has attracted co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including local Republican Congressman David Dreier. While Dreier is to be congratulated for his early support of this resolution, it is puzzling that one of our other local members of Congress — Democrat Adam Schiff, a longtime leader in the campaign for nuclear disarmament — has yet to sign on as a co-sponsor of HR 278. Because of his leadership on other nuclear weapons and human rights issues, let us hope Schiff will soon join Dreier in co-sponsoring this important resolution. Doing so will surely earn widespread support from his constituency for this great humanitarian cause.

John Grula is affiliated with the Southern California Federation of Scientists.


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