“The road from the world of today, with thousands of nuclear weapons in national arsenals to a world free of this threat, will not be an easy one to take, but it is clear that US leadership is essential to the journey and there is growing worldwide support for that civilized call to zero.” Thomas Graham Jr. and Max Kampelman

There will be no substantial progress on nuclear disarmament without the active participation and leadership of the United States. I recognize that many countries and individuals throughout the world are rightly skeptical of US leadership after nearly four decades of noncompliance with Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, and particularly after the past seven years of US nuclear policy under the Bush administration.

But on the issue of nuclear disarmament, there is no choice. If the US does not lead on nuclear disarmament, no substantial progress will be possible, mainly because without US leadership, Russia will not move and this will block the UK, France and China from taking significant steps.

The US has thus far been the limiting factor in progress on nuclear disarmament. It has promoted nuclear double standards and it has provided leadership in the wrong direction, toward long-term reliance on nuclear arms. In 15 votes on nuclear disarmament issues in the 2007 United Nations General Assembly, the US cast a negative vote on every one of the resolutions.

The US has engaged in a preventive war against Iraq, based on the now undisputed lie that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program. The US has threatened Iran because it pursues uranium enrichment. At the same time, the US has supported the transfer of nuclear technology to nuclear-armed India, shielded Israel’s possession of nuclear arms, and sought to replace every thermonuclear warhead in its own arsenal with more “reliable” weapons.

The issues I mention are just the tip of the iceberg, but they demonstrate how nuclear weapons deeply undermine democracy. A small group in power, even a single leader, such as Mr. Bush, can thwart both US and global opinion on nuclear disarmament and, in a worst case, plunge the world into a devastating nuclear war by accident, miscalculation or design.

Kissinger, Shultz, Perry, Nunn and other US foreign policy elites have awakened to the dangers that continued reliance on nuclear weapons pose to the United States. They understand that such reliance makes nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism more likely, threatening the cities of the US, its European Allies and others. They understand that deterrence no longer works (if it ever really did) and cannot be relied upon, particularly in the case of extremists in possession of nuclear weapons.

A new US president will be chosen in November. There will be change. The new president will need to hear from the American people and from people throughout the world. At the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, we are partnering with other groups throughout the world to present the new president with one million signatures on an Appeal calling for US leadership for a nuclear weapons-free world. The Appeal calls specifically for the new president to take the following steps:

  • De-alert. Remove all nuclear weapons from high-alert status, separating warheads from delivery vehicles;
  • No First Use. Make legally binding commitments to No First Use of nuclear weapons and establish nuclear policies consistent with this commitment;
  • No New Nuclear Weapons. Initiate a moratorium on the research and development of new nuclear weapons, such as the Reliable Replacement Warhead;
  • Ban Nuclear Testing Forever. Ratify and bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • Control Nuclear Material. Create a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty with provisions to bring all weapons-grade nuclear material and the technologies to create such material under strict and effective international control;
  • Nuclear Weapons Convention. Commence good faith negotiations, as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention for the phased, verifiable and irreversible elimination of nuclear weapons;
  • Resources for Peace. Reallocate resources from the tens of billions currently spent on nuclear arms to alleviating poverty, preventing and curing disease, eliminating hunger and expanding educational opportunities throughout the world.

For all of these points, and others that could be added, political will is more critical than technological skill. The possibility of US leadership on nuclear abolition will be greatly enhanced if the US government is pressured from abroad. The US government needs to hear from its friends. It needs to be pressured by its friends. If NATO continues to buckle under and go along with US opposition to nuclear disarmament due to US pressure, and that of the UK and France, it only enables their nuclear addiction.

We have a saying in the US, “Friends do not let friends drive drunk.” US nuclear policy endangers not only other drivers. It endangers the world. It is time to take away the keys. This can only be done by friends who care enough to act for the good of the drunk and the good of others on the road.

An additional benefit to strong public pressure for nuclear weapons abolition by US allies is that it helps those of us in the US that are seeking to move our own government to take responsible action on this issue. The opening for US leadership created by the Kissinger-Shultz group can be bolstered by strong statements from US friends abroad. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Appeal to the Next President will also be furthered by such support. And, of course, it will matter greatly who is chosen as the next president. Friends from abroad can help us to choose wisely by emphasizing the decisive importance of US leadership for global nuclear disarmament.


David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a member of the Executive Committee of the Middle Powers Initiative.