(This is a speech that President Obama might give to educate and encourage American citizens to support him in seeking a world free of nuclear weapons and to alert the world to America’s new proactive stance on nuclear disarmament.)
My Fellow Citizens,
I want to talk with you about an issue of the utmost importance for our common future and that of our children, grandchildren and generations to follow us on our planet.
The issue is nuclear weapons and the threat they pose to all humanity. As we learned more than six decades ago at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a single nuclear weapon can destroy a city, and the nuclear weapons today are far more powerful than those used in 1945. By implication, a few nuclear weapons could destroy a country and a nuclear war could end civilization as we know it.
We cannot rest comfortably or be complacent because nuclear weapons have not been used in warfare for over 60 years. There have been far too many accidents and miscalculations. We have come too close, too often, to nuclear devastation.
The threat that these weapons will be used is ever present. Today nine countries possess nuclear weapons. This number could grow dramatically should we continue with business as usual. There is also the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of non-state extremist groups, a threat that increases as nuclear weapons proliferate.
Many countries today believe that the nuclear weapons states have imposed a double standard on the world, and they are not content with this. Some of these countries refer to the current global situation as “nuclear apartheid.” We all know that double standards promote privilege for some, while creating resentment for many. Double standards cannot hold.
It is for this reason, compounded by the extreme dangers inherent in nuclear weapons, that the United States must lead the way to a world free of nuclear weapons. There are three important reasons that I now seek to assert this leadership. First, as long as nuclear weapons exist, they will threaten the security of our country. Second, unless we act now to control nuclear weapons and the material to create them, nuclear weapons may end up in the hands of terrorists with dire consequences. Third, we are the country that led the way into the Nuclear Age, and – due to our economic and military power – we are also the country that must lead the way out. In doing so, we would also be asserting moral leadership.
Creating a nuclear weapons-free world will not be an easy task, but it is a necessary one. I assure you that we will not disarm unilaterally, nor without the ability to verify the disarmament of other countries. We will proceed cautiously, but resolutely.
We have already begun negotiations with the Russians. Together our two countries possess over 95 percent of the nuclear weapons on the planet. Together we must take the lead in reductions. Our negotiations have three goals. First, to remove our arsenals from hair-trigger alert, making accidental launches far less likely. Second, to extend the 1991 START I agreement, so as to maintain its provisions for verification of reductions. Third, to reduce the number of nuclear weapons that each side possesses to 1,000 or less over the next two years.
These three steps will show the world that our two countries are serious about achieving the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world, a goal that all states party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are committed to under Article VI of the treaty.
Some of you will ask about the threats from nuclear-armed countries such as North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel. Others will ask about the dangers of potential nuclear weapons states such as Iran and Syria. My response to these concerns is that our country must lead the way, and we must assure by persuasion and positive incentives that these countries will follow our lead. In this, I believe that President Reagan had it right when he said, “Trust, but verify.” But first, we must begin negotiations.
At the level of approximately 1,000 nuclear weapons each in the arsenals of the United States and Russia, we would still have nuclear forces that would not be challenged by any rational leader, and no greater number would deter an irrational leader. When we reach 1,000 nuclear weapons each, it will be necessary to bring the other nuclear weapons states into the process to initiate negotiations on a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a treaty outlawing the possession of nuclear weapons and providing for the phased, verifiable, irreversible and transparent elimination of all nuclear weapons from the planet.
We are embarked on a great venture, one more critical and difficult than putting a man on the moon. But we should take heart in the capacity for greatness in the human spirit. If we are capable of putting a man on the moon, as we did, we are also capable of controlling and eliminating a technology capable of ending our human presence on Earth. This is a problem that we must deal with now, and not pass it on to future generations, while running the risk of devastation in the interim.
My fellow citizens, this is an undertaking on which rests the future of our country and our planet. We are embarked upon a path that will free humanity from what President Kennedy called the “Sword of Damocles” hanging over our heads. To do so is a shared responsibility to each other and to the future generations that will follow us on Earth. It is a task from which we cannot shirk if we are to be responsible citizens of our country and our planet.
If we can succeed in eliminating nuclear weapons from our planet, we just may be inspired by our achievement to do even more: to build a future that is humane for all, in which poverty is eliminated, resource use is sustainable, human rights are upheld and war is no longer a means of settling disputes. Let us be bold and set our sights on what has never before been achieved in the firm conviction that we can create change on the fantastic journey of our lives that links us with the past and stretches to the future. The elimination of nuclear weapons will put aside one towering obstacle to assuring that there is a future.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org) and a Councilor of the World Future Council.