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End Nuclear Threat, Next President Told

Jeffrey Allen

DENVER - On the sixty-third anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, groups and individuals around the world are calling on the next U.S. president to take seven concrete steps to end the threat of nuclear terrorism and war.

"Nuclear weapons were created by humans, and it is our responsibility to eliminate them before they eliminate us," states an appeal led by the California-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF).

The Dalai Lama, Walter Cronkite, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are among the prominent international figures and thousands of Americans who have already signed the appeal, which will be delivered to the White House on January 20, 2009 when the next president is inaugurated.

NAPF stresses that the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world is not as distant and difficult as the major U.S. presidential candidates have indicated, and that the United States, "as the world's most militarily powerful nation," is best positioned to convene world leaders to take the steps necessary to abolish the nuclear threat.

It is unclear, however, whether John McCain or Barack Obama would be willing to lead such an initiative as U.S. president.

"There is much we still don't know about the candidates' positions," says NAPF President David Krieger. "Both state in general terms that they favor the goal [of a nuclear-weapons-free world]. Neither of them, however, has discussed seeking to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention, a treaty that would set forth a roadmap for the phased, verifiable, irreversible, and transparent elimination of nuclear weapons."

"Between the two candidates, Senator McCain's positions seem more cautious and sketchy," adds Krieger, pointing out that McCain has used language that would leave open the door to developing new nuclear weapons, and he has strongly supported missile defense programs, which could prompt Russia to backtrack on its nuclear commitments.

Krieger thinks Obama has staked out a stronger position on eliminating the threat of nuclear weapons worldwide. "[Obama] has come out in favor of removing U.S. nuclear weapons from hair-trigger alert, not developing new nuclear weapons, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, [and] achieving a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material."

Those represent four of the seven steps Krieger's group is calling for in its roadmap to a nuclear-weapons-free world. The other three include committing to "No First Use" of nuclear weapons, negotiating a new treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, and reallocating funds from nuclear projects to efforts to alleviate poverty, prevent and cure disease, eliminate hunger, and expand educational opportunities worldwide.

Some Agreement, Important Differences

Many foreign policy and arms control analysts agree that both McCain and Obama's positions represent a strong departure from the policies of the George W. Bush administration.

"We'll have major progress on nuclear issues no matter who is elected," says John Isaacs, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. "It debunks the common view that Obama is the most liberal Democratic senator, and it debunks the view that McCain is really the third Bush term."

Isaacs' nonprofit group researches issues of international peace and national security. In a recent analysis, the Center laid out seven points on which the two candidates agree, and six on which they disagree, on nuclear weapons.

While both candidates voted in favor of an agreement to transfer nuclear technology to India for use in its energy program, only Obama's vote included amendments making the deal conditional on India proving that it would not use the technology to create new nuclear weapons.

Obama has also opposed a plan to store nuclear waste from power plants in a facility deep below Nevada's Yucca Mountain, citing safety concerns. McCain supports the plan, explains Isaacs.

NAPF's Krieger notes that McCain has also been much more supportive of nuclear energy, which "adds significantly to the complications of controlling nuclear materials and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons."

"[Obama also] focuses much more on securing loose, unsafe nuclear materials," adds Josh Rovenger of Citizens for Global Solutions, a Washington DC-based nonprofit that promotes cooperation among nations to solve the world's problems.

Different Worldviews

"Both McCain and...Obama represent a departure from the status quo," says Rovenger, but while Obama's view "acknowledges the unacceptable risks nuclear weapons pose merely by their existence," McCain's view is "steeped in the relics of Cold War deterrence theory."

"At the end of the day what really matters is how each one would respond to a crisis situation," says Rovenger, arguing that, while both candidates have said military force should only be used as a last resort, McCain has emphasized the importance of threats of force when handling international disputes, while Obama has prioritized diplomatic approaches.

"While both candidates appear to take nuclear proliferation seriously, the difference in their worldview is of utmost importance," concludes Rovenger.

Krieger's group would seem to agree, noting in its appeal to the next president that, in an era when non-locatable entities like like Al-Qaeda pose serious threats to U.S. security, "the only sure way to prevent...nuclear to rid the world of nuclear weapons."

"Nuclear weapons do not and cannot protect their possessors," adds Krieger. "In the seventh decade of the Nuclear Age, there is a glimmer of hope that new leadership in the United States may pave the way forward toward a world free of nuclear weapons."

This article has been included in's "Campaign '08" edition of Perspectives magazine, which examines where the major presidential candidates stand on key issues affecting all the world's people. Add your thoughts on the campaign today and get the background from experts on foreign policy, national security, foreign aid, global health, the environment, and much more.

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