This panel on “Reviving Nuclear Disarmament in the Non-Proliferation Regime” is of tremendous importance to the outcome of this Seventh Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference. Beyond that, it may prove vital to the present and future security of our planet. I am very pleased to be a part of it.

Although the public is largely unaware of this, it is no secret to any of you that nuclear disarmament is a central component of the non-proliferation bargain. On the one hand, this treaty provides obligations to halt nuclear proliferation; on the other, it provides obligations to achieve nuclear disarmament.

This makes perfect sense, of course, for the two obligations are highly interlinked. Without fulfilling disarmament obligations, it will not be possible to prevent proliferation. And should there be further nuclear proliferation, nuclear disarmament will be all the more difficult.

There has been much emphasis in the news – a subject with which I have some familiarity – about the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately, the nuclear disarmament obligations of the nuclear weapons states receive far less attention in news reporting, (at least within the United States). This may well be simply because a degree of isolationism still exists across the breadth of our land. That manifests itself in a down-playing of international news. Too often there is only minimum attention given by our local news media, print and broadcast, to the deeper, more intricate stories about our global community, its problems and hopes.

I’m afraid that a far too large percentage of our population does not recognize that nuclear disarmament is an essential component of the non-proliferation bargain. It is reason for us to worry. It seems that the United States and the other nuclear weapons states are trying to evade their obligations and responsibilities under this critical treaty.

These countries have in the first instance behaved as though the “unequivocal undertaking” which they made five years ago at the 2000 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, was subject to being discarded at will. They commit a similar affront to the non-proliferation treaty community by ignoring other of their promises.

Such behavior strains the credibility of these countries and puts the outcome of this Review Conference in jeopardy of failure. That outcome, of course, would be a tragedy for the world.

In this 60th year of the Nuclear Age, we must all be thinking about what can be done to assure a future for human beings on our planet. As the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have continually warned – “Nuclear weapons and human beings cannot co-exist.”

As a species, we are neither smart enough nor careful enough to continue to live with nuclear weapons in our midst. So far we have been lucky in that since the end of World War II, nuclear weapons have not been used again in war. But there is no telling how long this luck will last. We certainly cannot count on it to last indefinitely.

Therefore, we must get back to basics. We must return to the nuclear disarmament part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty bargain. And we must do so with clarity of purpose and determination to succeed. This is what my very distinguished fellow panelists are here to talk about today. The panelists include both representatives of civil society and of government. They all have worked on these issues with extraordinary dedication for a very long time.

I urge the delegates to this treaty conference to listen to them carefully – and to act with certainty that the future of humanity, including yet unborn generations, is dependent upon your success – right here and right now! You have a very important responsibility and the future is in your hands.

I trust that you will act with the foresight, courage and resolve that our current situation demands.

Walter Cronkite is an eminent broadcast journalist and recipient of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2004 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.