The city of Hiroshima’s Peace Declaration on August 6, 2000 stated, “if we had only one pencil we would continue to write first of the sanctity of human life and then of the need to abolish nuclear weapons.” The citizens of Hiroshima have horrendous first-hand knowledge of the devastation of nuclear weapons. They became the unwitting ambassadors of the Nuclear Age.

If we wish to prevent Hiroshima’s past from becoming our future, there must be leadership to reduce nuclear dangers by vigorous efforts leading to the total elimination of all nuclear weapons from Earth. This will not happen without US leadership, and therefore your leadership, Mr. President, will be essential.

Also in the Peace Declaration of Hiroshima is this promise: “Hiroshima wishes to make a new start as a model city demonstrating the use of science and technology for human purposes. We will create a future in which Hiroshima itself is the embodiment of those ‘human purposes.’ We will create a twenty-first century in which Hiroshima’s very existence formulates the substance of peace. Such a future would exemplify a genuine reconciliation between humankind and the science and technology that have endangered our continued survival.”

With this promise and commitment, Hiroshima challenges not only itself, but all humanity to do more to achieve a “reconciliation between humankind and science and technology.” The place where this challenge must begin is with the threat posed by nuclear weapons.

At the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the US and the other nuclear weapons states made an “unequivocal undertaking‚Ķto accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” This commitment is consistent with the obligation in Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and with the interpretation of that obligation as set forth unanimously by the International Court of Justice in its landmark 1996 opinion on the illegality of nuclear weapons.

In addition to moral and legal obligations to eliminate nuclear weapons, it is also in our security interests. Nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to the existence of our nation and, for that matter, the rest of the world. The American people and all people would be safer in a world without nuclear weapons. The first step toward achieving such a world is publicly recognizing that it would be in our interest to do so. That would be a big step forward, one that no American president has yet taken.

In the post Cold War period, US policy on nuclear weapons has been to maintain a two-tier structure of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots.” We have moved slowly on nuclear arms reductions and have attempted (unsuccessfully) to prevent nuclear proliferation. We have not given up our own reliance on nuclear weapons, and we have resisted any attempts by NATO members to re-examine NATO nuclear policy.

One of the early decisions you will be asked to make, Mr. President, is on the deployment of a National Missile Defense. While this resurrection of the discredited “Star Wars” system will never be able to actually protect Americans, it will anger the Russians and Chinese, undermine existing arms control agreements, and most likely prevent future progress toward a nuclear-weapons-free world. The Russians have stated clearly that if we proceed with deploying a National Missile Defense, they will withdraw from the START II Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This would be a major setback in US-Russian relations at a time when Russia has every reason to work cooperatively with us for nuclear arms reductions.

In fact, Russian President Putin has offered to reduce to 1,500 the number of strategic nuclear weapons in START III. Well-informed Russians say that he is prepared to reduce Russia’s nuclear arsenal to under 1,000 strategic weapons as a next step. We have turned down this proposal, and told the Russian government that we are only prepared to reduce our nuclear arsenal to 2,000 to 2,500 strategic weapons in START III. This is hard to understand because reductions in nuclear weapons arsenals, particularly the Russian nuclear arsenal, would have such clear security benefits to the United States.

The Chinese currently have some 20 nuclear weapons capable of reaching US territory. If we deploy a National Missile Defense, they have forewarned us that they will expand their nuclear capabilities. This would be easy for them to do, and it will certainly have adverse consequences for US-Chinese relations. Additionally, it could trigger new nuclear arms races in Asia between China and India and India and Pakistan.

North Korea has already indicated its willingness to cease development of its long-range missile program in exchange for development assistance which they badly need. We should pursue similar policies with Iraq, Iran and other potential enemies. We should vigorously pursue diplomacy which seeks to turn potential enemies into friends.

Rather than proceeding with deployment of a National Missile Defense, we should accept President Putin’s offer and proceed with negotiations for START III nuclear arms reductions to some 1,000 to 1,500 strategic nuclear weapons on each side. Simultaneously, we should provide leadership for multinational negotiations among all nuclear weapons states for a Comprehensive Treaty to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons. This would be a demonstration of the “good faith” called for in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In addition to these steps, there are many more positive steps that require US leadership. Among these steps are de-alerting nuclear forces, separating warheads from delivery vehicles, providing assurances of No First Use of nuclear weapons, establishing an accounting for all nuclear weapons and weapons grade materials in all countries, withdrawing nuclear weapons from foreign soil and international waters, and providing international monitored storage of all weapons-grade nuclear materials.

The United States is a powerful country. It will have enormous influence, for better or for worse, on the future of our species and all life. Continuing on with our present policies on nuclear weapons will lead inevitably to disaster. Millions of Americans know that we can do better than this. Because these weapons are in our arsenal now does not mean they must always be, if we act courageously and wisely.

We need to set a course for the 21st century that assures that it will be a peaceful century. The lack of leadership to end the nuclear threat to humanity’s future is unfortunately augmented by other unwise policies that we pursue. Our country must stop being the arms salesman to the world, the policeman for the world, and the chief trainer for foreign military and paramilitary forces.

We need to become an exporter and promoter of democracy and decency, human rights and human dignity. If these values are to be taken seriously abroad, we must demonstrate their effect in our own society. To do this, we need to reduce rather than increase military expenditures. We are currently spending more on our military than the next 16 highest military spending countries combined. This is obscene and yet it goes unchallenged. It is another area where presidential leadership is necessary.

We live in a world in which borders have become incapable of stopping either pollution or projectiles. Our world is interconnected, and our futures are interlinked. We must support the strengthening of international law and institutions. Among the treaties that await our ratification are the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Landmine Prohibition Treaty, the Treaty on the Rights of the Child, the Treaty on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Treaty for an International Criminal Court.

Mr. President, I have watched many of your predecessors fail to act on these issues. You have the opportunity to set out on a new path, a path to the future that will bring hope to all humanity. I urge you to accept the challenge and take this path. Be the leader who abolishes nuclear weapons. It would be the greatest possible gift to humanity.