71 Years After The First Atomic Strike, There Are Steps the U.S. Can Take Towards A Safer World
Today, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima, Japan, the site of the world’s first nuclear attack. Since coming into office, the reduction of nuclear weapons has been a high priority for Obama. In a 2009 speech in Prague, for instance, he pledged to seek a nuclear free world saying, “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
In his seven years in office, President Obama has made some progress toward this goal, including the signing of a new START treaty with Russia, which reduces the number of nuclear weapons that the U.S. and Russia deploy, and the negotiation of the historical Iran deal. Nonetheless, today’s visit reminds us of the persistent dangers of nuclear weapons and the long road ahead to completely eliminate these weapons. As the only nation to have ever used a nuclear weapon, the U.S. should continue to take the lead in reducing the risk of future use of even move powerful weapons. Before President Obama leaves office, there are steps the U.S. can take to continue on the path towards a safer, non-nuclear war, including:
- Pushing for the test ban. In keeping with a promise he made in his first month in office, President Obama should submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) to the Senate for ratification. The treaty, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1996, has already been signed by 183 countries including the U.S. and Russia, but the U.S. Senate has still not ratified the treaty. The treaty, in which countries agree to ban all military and civilian nuclear explosions, will not enter force unless the United States and several other nations ratify it.
- Scaling back nuclear modernization. Avoiding arms races and future nuclear proliferation will require curbing the U.S’s nuclear modernization plans, which currently involve high levels of spending on nonessential nuclear technology and will only exacerbate acute budget pressures on the Pentagon. There is little evidence that spending billions of dollars developing niche nuclear capabilities, such as cruise missiles and tactical gravity bombs, as the current plans prescribe, is necessary to deter adversaries. Nor will expansive American modernization programs engender the trust and goodwill that President Obama needs from other nations to reduce the proliferation efforts of others. In an age where resources are finite, that money is better invested in other defense systems and programs that are designed to respond to the modern day threats facing the U.S. and its allies.
- Rejoin the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In 2002, President George W. Bush decided to opt out of The Anti-Ballistic Missle Treaty, which was first negotiated by President Nixon in 1972 to limit the extent to which countries can use anti-ballistic missile systems to defend areas. At the time, Bush said he wanted a safeguard against Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. But the recently signed Iran deal has blocked the three pathways Iran would use to develop a nuclear weapon, ensuring the country will not have one for the foreseeable future. Since there is no need to deploy missile defense systems in Europe to protect against nonexistent Iranian nuclear weapons, the president can now rejoin the ABM Treaty.
BOTTOM LINE: In his speech in Hiroshima today, President Obama said, “we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.” His visit to Hiroshima serves as a stark reminder both of the devastating power of nuclear weapons and of the potential for progress. Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States has taken strong steps towards eliminating nuclear weapons, but there is still much to be done to achieve a more peaceful, nuclear-free world.
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