The US and Russia have made progress in reducing nuclear weapons from their Cold War highs, but we still have a long way to go. There remain some 35,000 weapons in the world, and 4,500 of these are on “hair-trigger” alert.

If a single nuclear weapon were accidentally launched, it could destroy a city but that’s not all. With current launch-on-warning doctrines, an accidental launch could end up in a full-fledged nuclear war. This would mean the end of civilization and everything we value – just like that. The men and women in charge of these weapons could make a mistake, computers or sensors could make a mistake – and just like that our beautiful world could be obliterated. We can’t let that happen.

Along with Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Marian Wright Edelman, Mohammad Ali, Harrison Ford, and many others, I have signed an Appeal to World Leaders to End the Nuclear Weapons Threat to Humanity. This Appeal calls for some sensible steps, such as de-alerting nuclear weapons. Just this step alone would make the world and all of us much safer from the threat of an accidental nuclear war while we pursue a world free of nuclear weapons.

President Clinton recently said, “As we enter this new millennium, we should all commit ourselves anew to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons.” I think the American people need to encourage the President and our representatives in Congress to assert US leadership in achieving such a world. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to our children, grandchildren and all future generations.

But what should we do?

First, the Russians have proposed cutting the number of US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons down to 1,000 to 1,500 each. We have responded by saying that we are only prepared to go to 2,000 to 2,500 weapons. But why? Isn’t it in the security interests of the American people to decrease the Russian nuclear arsenal as much as possible? We should move immediately to the lowest number of nuclear weapons to which the Russians will agree.

Second, we should be upholding the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty instead of seeking to amend it. By limiting the number of defensive interceptor missiles, as the ABM Treaty does, we prevent a return to an offensive nuclear arms race. An effective missile defense system may work in the movies, but experts say it has very little chance of working or of not being overcome by decoys in real life. I certainly wouldn’t bet the security of my children’s future on building an expensive missile defense system that would violate the long-standing ABM Treaty.

Third, we should declare a policy of No First Use of nuclear weapons. There is no conceivable reason for attacking first with nuclear weapons or any other weapon of mass destruction and that should be our policy.

Fourth, we should be engaging in good faith negotiations with Russia and the other nuclear weapons states to achieve a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons. That’s what we promised in the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and recently reaffirmed at the 2000 Review Conference for this Treaty. If we want the non-nuclear weapons states to keep their part of the non-proliferation bargain and not develop nuclear weapons, we’d better keep our part of the bargain.

When President Clinton goes to Moscow in early June to meet with President Putin, I’d like to see him come back with an agreement to dramatically reduce nuclear dangers by taking our respective nuclear arsenals off “hair-trigger” alert, by re-affirming the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, by agreeing on policies of No First Use of nuclear weapons, and by beginning negotiations in good faith on an international treaty for the phased elimination of nuclear weapons under strict and effective international control. If Presidents Clinton and Putin would take these steps, they would be real heroes of our time. And we could use some real life heroes.