This past Friday, the world quietly observed the 59th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the dawn of the first Nuclear Age.

On this quiet late summer day in a presidential election season, not a word was noted in most of the communities across our land.

In a local barbershop, a conversation was heard that there was hardly a difference in the candidates for this year’s presidential election. As I pondered this statement, I realized how remarkable it was in this season of remembrance and reflection. Currently, the world stands at the brink of entering a renewed second nuclear arms race dependent upon U.S. policy.

Members of Congress, at home during their summer recess, will return to debate the president’s request for additional funding for new nuclear weapons systems, including the huge “Bunker Buster” and “Usable” mini-nukes. This reflects a mind-set that nuclear weapons are necessary and usable and that nuclear arms treaties constrict us and interfere with our ability to develop these new weapons systems.

These ideas are reflected in the administration’s “Nuclear Posture Review,” released in March 2002. Remarkably, it also proposes that the United States alone could unleash a pre-emptive nuclear attack on a nation for the suspicion of threat. If no other issue were to be debated this season, this alone stands as the most critical for our future and that of future generations.

Regarding the issues of nuclear security, we need to ask where the candidates stand. We must then decide and vote accordingly. Let’s look at three specific areas.

  1. Creation of new nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
  2. Moratorium on nuclear testing and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  3. The problem of former Soviet nuclear weapons.

The CIA and intelligence communities advise that one of the most significant threats to U.S. security is attack by some terrorist organization using a weapon obtained from former Soviet stockpiles. These weapons are potentially more readily available following the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty, signed by President Bush and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, which aims to store rather than destroy nuclear stockpiles.

On these questions, Bush is pressing Congress for funds to develop new nuclear weapons systems while Sen. John Kerry states he will “stop this administration’s program to develop new nuclear weapons. These are systems we don’t need.” He then questions what the message is that this sends to other countries.

On nuclear testing, the president has asked for funding to prepare the Nevada test site for accelerated testing readiness and has spoken against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, while Kerry is an outspoken proponent of arms control and nonproliferation. He supports ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Third, on former Soviet nukes, the president has negotiated the SORT treaty, which, as stated, plans to store nuclear stockpiles. Kerry states that SORT “runs the risk of increasing the danger of nuclear theft by stockpiling thousands of warheads.” He states that when he is president, he will make securing weapons and materials from the former Soviet Union a priority in relations between the United States and Russia.

Finally, we must ask how other nations of the world and our adversaries will respond to our lip service of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction, yet unilaterally pursuing the development and potential use of them.

The answers to these questions will determine how we are viewed by the world community and the hope our future will hold.

This 59th anniversary of Hiroshima, we are reminded of the famous Albert Einstein quote at the beginning of the first arms race: “With the unleashed power of the atom, we thus drift towards unparalleled catastrophe unless we change the way we think.”

On these lazy days of summer, when politics seems so insignificant and remote, the choice is ours. There really are differences. We must decide. The world is watching.

Robert Dodge, M.D., of Ventura, is co-chairman of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions and president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, Ventura County.

Originally published by the Ventura County Star.