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The Fierce Urgency of Disarmament | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Fierce Urgency of Disarmament

"After a long winter of discontent we have the audacity to hope forspringtime.... But there are miles to go before we sleep."--Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapalawe, President ofPugwash

For more than five years, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (WMDC) and its Chairman, Dr. Hans Blix, have worked to generate proposals for reducing the dangers of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Two weeks ago in Washington, DC, the commission met for the last time.

Blix described this moment as hopeful--a post-Iraq world in whichpeople see the limits of force and the need for diplomacy. The world'sattention is focused on the potential threat of nukes in Iran and NorthKorea, or in the hands of a terrorist group, and on nuclear instability inPakistan. And there is real hope as a result of the new and focusedleadership of President Obama and other leaders around the world.

It's critical that the disarmament movement seize this opportunity topush its agenda.

So, as the Commission ended its work, Dr. Blix invited the leaders ofeight disarmament groups to speak about their continued efforts to ridthe world of nuclear weapons. Participants included the PloughsharesFund, Global Zero, Nuclear Security Project, Pugwash, Luxembourg Forum, InternationalCommission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, Global SecurityInstitute, and the Middle Powers Institute. There was also apresentation by White House WMD Coordinator, Gary Samore.

Dr. Bruce Blair of Global Zero said a major challenge will be to sustainthe disarmament momentum and "prevent a lapse." While nuclear abolitionhas broadened its appeal politically--receiving endorsements fromconservatives such as former Senator Chuck Hagel, John McCain, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz--Blair said the constituency isn't as vibrant as it needs to be and young people aren't sufficiently involved.

His colleague, former Ambassador Richard Burt, agreed. He said theresimply isn't "a constituency like there was twenty or thirty years ago. Youngerpeople are not paying attention." To that end, Global Zero isorganizing field workers on college campuses and around the world.

There is also an effort to more effectively communicate the immediacyand urgency of the nuclear threat. Blix said it needs to be understoodby the world as another "Inconvenient Truth." Jonathan Granoff of theGlobal Security Institutealso pointed to Al Gore's success in tying global warming to somethingpeople discuss every day--the weather. People need to see nuclearweapons as "pertinent, real, present, and dangerous," Granoff said. "Wehaven't hit the resonant note yet. We have to find that." (Andhopefully it will resonate before a nuclear incident.)

Political obstacles also threaten to derail new cooperation on nukes. Blix pointed to the provocative NATO exercises in Georgia this month,and Charles Curtis of the Nuclear Security Project said such actions threaten to "reboot" the old relationship with Russia rather than "reset" a new one, as the administration has consistently expressed a desire to do.

Certainly President Obama has done much to put disarmament back on the radar. White House WMD Coordinator, Gary Samore, said he has worked for five presidents and Obama is the "most interested and enthusiastic" about arms control and non-proliferation.

In fact, Samore said, the speech in Prague was Obama's own idea. Obama wanted to lay out his intention to work for "a world without nuclear weapons" and his administration's agenda. That agenda includes Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; an armsreduction treaty with Russia this year and work on a second treatybeginning in early 2010; strengthening the Nuclear Non-ProliferationTreaty; negotiating the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty to verifiably end theproduction of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium; and a Global Summiton Nuclear Security next year.

Samore said the fact that there were "no differences between keydepartments" on Obama's speech and proposed agenda bodes well as theadministration moves forward. However, he also noted potential "hugelandmines", including needed progress in talks with Iran and continuedtensions over Georgia. I would add to that the lunacy of the proposedmissile defense system at Russia's doorstep.

There is still a long road ahead, but this is indeed a hopeful moment for advocates who have beenfighting tirelessly for nuclear abolition for decades. Once dismissed,their grounded realism and determined idealism is now moving into themainstream.

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